State Sen. Joe Nguyen, a progressive Democrat from West Seattle, is running for King County executive, he announced Tuesday, marking the first serious challenger to County Executive Dow Constantine in more than a decade.
Nguyen, 37, launched his campaign with a focus not so much on policy disagreements but on the need for new, more diverse leadership, with “lived experience” of the problems facing the county.
“Politics should be about people, not careers, and it’s increasingly clear that governments run by transactional politicians do not serve communities,” Nguyen said. “Decisions from the top down are easy — but they do not solve real and systemic problems.”
He said his focus would be on addressing the county’s homelessness crisis, criminal justice reform and implementing climate policies, specifically through mass transit expansion.
He was critical of Constantine’s actions on some of those issues — including the construction of a new youth jail and justice center and the delays in setting up a regional homelessness authority — but said a change in approach, often more than a change in policy, is what’s needed.
“Too often, I believe, when people talk about community engagement they make a decision, tell the community about it and then get mad that the community feels as if they were hurt,” Nguyen said. “There are policy issues we should be addressing, but just changing the way we think about this issue, just changing the relationships with people that are involved in it, I think that is the critical piece.”
Christian Sinderman, Constantine’s political consultant, said Constantine has “made engagement and input a centerpiece of his equity and inclusion agenda, which is part of every department and every program.”
Constantine, who is seeking a fourth term, has not faced a serious opponent since he was first elected in 2009. He was reelected in both 2013 and 2017, with 77% and 78% of the vote, respectively.
Nguyen was elected to the state Senate in 2018, winning an open seat to represent West Seattle, White Center, Burien and Vashon Island. He will continue to serve in the Senate as he campaigns for county executive.
The son of Vietnamese refugees, he became part of the most racially diverse Legislature in Washington’s history, something he cited as crucial for progressive victories this session.
The Legislature, this year, passed long-stymied Democratic goals, including a capital gains tax, a clean-fuels standard, a slate of police reforms and a low-income tax credit.
“It’s not an accident,” Nguyen said. “When you have people who’ve been impacted by failed policies, they have lived experience that is unlike people who would just say ‘Hey, I care about this issue,’ even though they may not necessarily have experience in it.”
Nguyen, in his short time in the Legislature, has been willing to ruffle some feathers. He blamed some Democratic colleagues (without naming them) for the failure of a bill that would have expanded camera enforcement of bus-only lanes and crosswalks, saying some of his fellow lawmakers “are known violators” of the law.
A manager at Microsoft, Nguyen joked that one of his most important legislative contributions may have been teaching his colleagues how to video conference, for a legislative session that was almost entirely remote.
When the Legislature’s tech staff tried to help lawmakers with their computers, there was “a power dynamic that was causing trouble.”
“Have you met senators before? There’s just a lot of ego. If you have a tech support person saying ‘hey, refresh your computer or do this,’ they’ll say ‘I’m doing it, the computer’s broken, not me,’ ” he said. “But when another senator tells them to do it, it’s much more cordial.”