VIDEO: Conversation with 34th District State Senate candidate Joe Nguyen

EDITOR’S NOTE: A month has passed since the August primary, and general-election voting is a little more than a month away. Our election coverage continues with a closeup look at both candidates running for the open 34th District State Senate seat. We interviewed Shannon Braddock and Joe Nguyen separately before Labor Day; after featuring our conversation with her last night, tonight we’re reporting on our conversation with him.

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Joe Nguyen‘s 34th District State Senate campaign is his first try for public office – and while he says that “I knew we worked harder than anyone else” in the primary field of 11 contenders, he was still “shocked” to have ended up with the most votes.

Though he hasn’t run for office before, Nguyen says he has “been involved with politics for a long time … I actually paged for (now County Executive) Dow Constantine when he was in the Legislature.”

Our opening question in our conversation (which you can see above, in its entirety, in unedited video): Why do you want this job?

“It isn’t the job that I want, (but rather) representation for our community, and the ability for people here to realize they have the power, the authority, to actually make positive change. The Senate seat, to me, is honestly secondary – the main thing I want is for this community to be a place where everyone can succeed … this seat is one step in a whole host of things I believe is important to have happen to have a decent community.”

The Vietnamese-American West Seattle resident notes that he is the first person of color to win a primary in this district and would be its first legislator of color. That “weighs on my mind as well … My parents are refugees from Vietnam, and we were allowed to be here because of good public policy … and because of the community that helped me so much, we were able to thrive.” That community is the same one he is running to represent, Nguyen notes – including White Center and Burien. He tells the story of community support after a car crash left his father quadriplegic, with family members carrying him up and down the steps of their home “because we didn’t have a ramp.” After seeing this, Nguyen says, a neighbor mustered a group of friends to come over and build a ramp. “So the level of care and the level of passion I have for this community is because literally at our greatest time of need, they came to our help.” His family also received help from the Salvation Army and a food bank when he was growing up, he adds. “The community literally helped raise me. … I wouldn’t run in any other district but this one because of what they’ve done for me. I’m in a position to be able to help give back.”

But why the State Legislature as opposed to other ways of giving back? Nguyen is already involved with nonprofits, too. But the Legislature is a place where you can work on “getting health care for everybody, protecting immigrants and their rights, making sure that we have an equitable solution for tax reform (and) funding for education.” Why run now? He says his job and family responsibilities are “stable enough” that they would enable him to handle this role, though in addition to having two very small children (small enough that they were riding in a double stroller when we bumped into Nguyen and his family at Alki recenly), he is still caring for his mom as well. For years, he says, “my focus has been on surviving … these past few years are the first time I’ve worked only one job.”

Regarding his job, by the way, his campaign website describes him as “a Senior Manager at Microsoft working to provide job training that supports all people with the skills needed to succeed in this rapidly changing, technologically dependent economy.”

He adds that he feels it’s a rare opportunity because the seat hasn’t been open, no incumbent, in many years. He wouldn’t have run, he adds, if he felt there was another candidate who “reflected the community, that was going to fight as passionately as I would, that I felt was going to represent all our voices in the State Legislature …” A moment later, asked about the moment he decided to run, he confides that his original thought was to run in two years, for a possible open State House seat, and then suddenly Sen. Sharon Nelson announced her plan to retire, and after some assessment of the situation, he decided, “Why not?”

(WSB photo from West Seattle Grand Parade, July 2018)

What ensued was a four-month primary campaign of doorknocking for all but two days, and phone calls he said went all the way up to the moment his wife said he’d better get ready to go to his Election Night party (at Ounces in North Delridge). He says he put in “about 120 hours a week between (his job) and campaigning.” Friends with more political experience warned him not to get discouraged if he finished in second, saying he would probably end up “pretty far behind,” but instead, the final count left him 2,900 votes ahead.

But enough about the past. Looking ahead, if he wins, we ask, what are the most-important issues he expects to take on?

First, he says, it’s about the attitude. Expecting a likely “decent majority” of Democrats in both houses of the Legislature, he says, “when you’re from a district like the 34th that’s ‘safe,’ you have to be even more bold in leadership.” With that said, “the first things are going to be health care for all” – so-called “single payer” – “and fixing our regressive tax structure … I think those two are causes for a lot of the issues we face in inequality in Washington state. … If you have the majority in the House, the Senate, the Governor’s office, there should be no excuse for being able to pass … things that just make sense.” He says it’s hard to understand why wanting progress on those issues is considered “progressive”: “I just think that means you’re a good human being.” He adds that education funding is near the top of the list too.

Even if single-payer health care isn’t immediately achievable, Nguyen suggests that Washington could partner with its other West Coast “blue wall” states (Oregon, California) to make progress by bargaining for better prescription-drug prices, for example, “and other economies of scale.” What it really takes is “prioritizing (this) as a society,” the same way we seem currently to be fine with, he uses as an example, tax breaks for large companies – “we’re one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest nation in the world; there’s no excuse for (allowing some) to be too poor to live.”

What legislation does he hope to propose and get passed? “Capital-gains (tax) is a very realistic thing,” he begins, while acknowledging that constituents will need to be reassured that the money would be spent wisely. So toward that end, he would seek to lower property and sales taxes and “get rid of B&O (business and occupation tax) for small and medium-sized businesses.” He also mentions “public safety” – including “common-sense gun legislation.” Beyond those issues, “there’s like 100 in my head that I’d be excited about tackling.”

What about the Sound Transit car-tab-fee controversy, which came before the Legislature last session? (The recent court ruling upholding the fee structure happened after our conversation with Nguyen.) He says he understands the concern and anger about the way the fees were structured, but the proposals to change it that were circulating didn’t make sense, and he supports keeping it the way it is now. “In my mind, we needed transit 40 years ago, when we gave federal funding to Atlanta vs. using it here.” He says that the proposed changes, including financing changes for the light-rail system, would end up costing more money, so continuing with the current structure would be wiser. In the end, he says, the problem remains our state’s regressive tax structure, overall. “If you really want to tackle that as a problem, you can’t just put a bandaid (on) this one fee structure. … We won’t have a good solution until we fix our regressive tax structure.”

What committees would he like to serve on, if elected?


What’s the difference between him and Braddock, since both are self-described progressive Democrats?

“I don’t take corporate PAC [political action committee] money …” He says that’s important because he doesn’t want anything to “muddle” his relationship with people. “If I’m a person that says I’d fight for minimum wage, that I’d fight for family leave, that I’d fight for working-class families, I for sure should not be taking money from organizations that do the exact opposite. … You can call yourself whatever you want; it’s your actions that define you.” He went on to list some of his actions as a volunteer, “on a nonprofit that does a lot of work with family homelessness” and other organizations including the Community Advisory Committee for the King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight.

A couple of very local issues, before our conversation concludes: What about the state tax credit for White Center annexation? While Nguyen was clear that the residents should decide whether to be annexed or not (the issue is currently simmering on one of Seattle’s back burners), he is concerned that annexation would further gentrify WC and the rest of unincorporated North Highline, and push out residents and businesses of color, “and we know that if they get pushed out, they’re probably never coming back.” He said an annexation proposal would have to address a variety of issues to keep that from happening.

And last but not least, the state ferry system, whose Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route has two of its three terminals in the 34th District: Nguyen says it’s a tough situation to navigate, plus he sees Washington State Ferries as “grossly underfunded.” He’s concerned about not only the aging boats but also the aging workforce. Overall, he says, he’s been working to “augment” his understanding of ferry issues.

Tonight, Joe Nguyen and opponent Shannon Braddock are debating during the 34th District Democrats’ meeting at The Hall at Fauntleroy; we’ll have coverage here on WSB tomorrow. Ballots for the November election, including this race, will be mailed October 17th.

39 Replies to "VIDEO: Conversation with 34th District State Senate candidate Joe Nguyen"

  • Question Authority September 12, 2018 (8:04 pm)

    Basically everything he wants will require tax after tax to pay for it all, no thanks.

    • heartless September 12, 2018 (10:04 pm)

      Dude, how the hell do you think governments get money?

      • Question Authority September 13, 2018 (8:01 am)

        First off who said I’m a Dude?  Second I know what taxes are for, I just don’t want mine spent on Socialist or Progressive ideals that ring of unachievable dreams.

        • Jort September 13, 2018 (9:04 am)

          May I recommend Idaho? Perhaps some lovely property in South Dakota where you can enjoy endless views of brown grass?   I’m sorry that “progressive ideals” are so troubling to you, but, I suppose the “progressive” West Coast states probably know a thing or two about what they’re doing, since they’re among the most economically successful states in America.    Weirdly, Idaho isn’t quite as successful…. but at least they have low low low TAXES, amirite?!?!?!?!?! 

        • Seattlite September 13, 2018 (7:14 pm)

          Question Authority…Indeed…Seattle desperately needs leaders with common sense and logic which is seriously lacking at this time.

    • cwit September 13, 2018 (9:18 am)

      Can you give specific examples of the Socialist and/or Progressive ideals that you reference? Serious question – I want to know what’s being considered those ideals to you.

  • joenguyenfanboy September 12, 2018 (9:27 pm)

    Thanks WSB! Appreciate seeing interviews from both candidates. I’m excited to put a nice squiggly circle next to Joe’s name in November. 

  • Mike in Delridge September 12, 2018 (9:30 pm)

    Go Joe!! The 34th LD deserves progressive leadership with a new perspective. #NguyenTogether #RealChange

  • Jort September 12, 2018 (10:00 pm)

    I continue to be impressed by Joe Nguyen’s thoughtful, meaningful responses to questions. I’m glad that he is not worshipping at the pointless altar of “bi-partisanship,” and that he instead wants to use solid Democratic majorities to enact strong, Democratic policies that will benefit our state.                  This is much more preferable than other “Democrats,” like Bob “I Will Literally Kill Light Rail To West Seattle” Hasegawa, who will fall over themselves with eagerness at any opportunity to join up with Republicans from eastern Washington and throw Democratic priorities in the garbage disposal.            We don’t need any more “Democrats” who want to sign on to Republican plans to re-distribute our property tax dollars to bail out the citizens of Ritzville and Metalline Falls school districts, who refuse to pay a dime more in tax but are more than eager to Hoover up the Puget Sound’s hard-earned dollars. And we don’t need any more “Democrats” like the aforementioned transit-slaughtering Bob Hasegawa who will sign up for literally any Republican-led attempt to cripple the Sound Transit ballot measures we’ve overwhelmingly approved.           Joe has a great background, but he’s not running on a platform of “I’m a daddy” or “I’m a Vietnamese-American.” His policy plans and his passion to follow through on them are very apparent. Joe looks ready to get in and get things done.  I am happy to have turned from being a skeptic to a believer!

  • WS voter September 13, 2018 (6:54 am)

    I have a question regarding Joe, I’m putting this here because I get the feeling a lot of his loyal supporters are reading this.  Has he said what his work plan is if elected?  Being a state senator is a big time commitment, but pays way less than a full time salary.  Will be able to stay on at Microsoft?

    • Ferryander September 13, 2018 (7:28 am)

      Microsoft has a civic leave program where he will be able to go to Olympia for however long session lasts then come back to work once the session is over.

  • Pam September 13, 2018 (8:25 am)

    Do no solicitor signs cover having political flyers left on porch or is it just for people knocking on your door?  Genuinely curious.  

    • KBear September 13, 2018 (9:15 am)

      Political canvassing is free speech protected by the First Amendment. Canvassers may knock on your door and/or leave flyers regardless of any sign you may have posted.

      • skeptic September 13, 2018 (10:05 am)

        I too had a canvasser ignore my no soliciting sign and interrupt dinner to ask me to vote for Joe.  I asked if she had seen my sign and she said yes, but “I’m not selling anything”.  The definition of solicit is to ASK for something.  Like a vote.Here is a tip for the Nguyen campaign (this is true for ALL the campaigns).  Anyone with a no soliciting sign that your workers disturb is probably going to be annoyed.  I for one will use my protected free speech to NOT vote for your candidate.

        • Stephen September 13, 2018 (12:12 pm)

          As a (very) long-time canvasser, I DO NOT knock at or approach houses with ‘no soliciting’ signs. Personally, I look forward to opportunities to learn about candidates face to face.  I respect a householder’s choice to do otherwise.

  • No light rail man in the WS September 13, 2018 (8:50 am)

    Jort.  Seems to me  you a plant for Sound Transit?  Many of your posts seem to have very specific agendas.   Just curious.

    • Herewith September 13, 2018 (12:02 pm)

      I agree with your Jort comment. QA says they don’t care for more taxes for pie in the sky, and Jort snarks- go to Idaho? I’m a prog/lib, and feeling very overtaxed and mis-served. Can I live here (not Idaho) and voice opposition? 

    • Jort September 14, 2018 (9:23 am)

      I truly, truly wish that Sound Transit was paying me to make internet comments, but, alas, I have no relationship with Sound Transit, officially or unofficially, directly or indirectly. I merely pay the same Sound Transit taxes as everybody else, and expect high quality transit in return for paying those taxes.  

  • rico September 13, 2018 (9:01 am)

     Why no questions or discussion about what many feel is this regions biggest problem, the trashing of the city and rampant crime with no consequences?  This a pretty big issue for many people in this city.  Seems negligent to not address it as a potential policy maker. Just last night I was with some out of town visitors.  I have not been with out of state visitors for about 15 years and last night remembered how proud of my city Seattle I used to be when touring around with out of state visitors.  Last night I had no city pride at all, I just had to apologize on behalf of the city leaders who implement policies that allow the current conditions. Embarrassing 

    • WSB September 13, 2018 (9:13 am)

      For one – this is a state office. What do *you* think your state legislators should be doing about homelessness?

      • Dan September 13, 2018 (7:44 pm)

        Funding mental health funding at the state level and addiction services would be a nice start.

        • WSFAN September 13, 2018 (11:47 pm)

          Shannon Braddock actually suggested this very approach in her interview  – as one approach for improving the homeless situation.

  • rico September 13, 2018 (10:09 am)

     I have not been able to spend enough time to adequately answer your question (you know, working many hours to pay all these taxes and raise my children so they do not become the governments problem) but it is certainly within the States power to be able to impact some of the City Policies. 

  • wscommuter September 13, 2018 (10:47 am)

    It is somewhat depressing to read the ranting here … from Jort’s far left extremism to QA and others’ right wing anti-government spewing.  I suppose a sign of the times – some people feel the need to lower themselves to emulate Trump.  That tone of “if you don’t agree with me, you must be stupid or evil” is so unfortunate.  Most disappointing is the lack of understanding of fundamental civics … the stuff folks were supposed to know by 8th grade.  We are fortunate to have two good candidates for this legislative position.  I’m personally voting for Ms. Braddock as she seems to have a better grasp of the issues, but Mr. Nguyen is a serious candidate with thoughtful positions – if he ends up winning, I suspect we’ll be fine.  

    • Question Authority September 13, 2018 (11:34 am)

      I’m certainly not right-wing, what I don’t care for is the Socialist agenda where they think through taxes and other social engineering all of the ills that affect society will be solved through endless dreams and unrealistic goal setting.

      • Question question authority September 13, 2018 (12:27 pm)

        Aw the endless dreams and unrealistic goal setting of progressives : Healthcare for all, how does every industrialized nation do it !? Or legit payed paternity and maternity time, what an endless dream! Or actual living wages for full time employees, so unrealistic ! Or affordable child care ,  pie in the sky! Or robust public transportation,  what a pipe dream! Or access to quality education for our kids , Jesus the horror ! Or access to higher learning for all, my god its impossible !! I mean at the end of the day we should all just be happy we have indoor plumbing because everything else is just too hard!

      • West Seattle Hipster September 13, 2018 (12:57 pm)

        Agreed.  Just because someone questions tax increases or wasted use of our taxes does not make them “right wing”.  I consider myself a liberal Democrat but I loathe government waste of resources that are squandered repeatedly.  Recent Seattle government has proven they have no clue how to run a city.

  • ScubaFrog September 13, 2018 (1:16 pm)

    I’m QUITE fine with higher corporate taxes for the Big Dogs, if it will pay for more police and help the homeless.  But nooooooooo, every Seattleite lost it because their precious corporations “are people too!”.  Good heavens Seattle, Bezos is the richest man on earth, Bill Gates is the 2nd richest man on earth, their corporations make billions and billions of dollars.   WEAK!  You had a chance to help, and you typical to stuck up Seattle fashion, you threw the middle finger to the suffering majority, and kissed the corporations’ tuchases.  SAD!Joe’s great btw, a definite vote from me.  Shannon bigtime PAC money, she’d be at the beckon call of those who footed her bill.  NOT THIS TIME SHANNON!

  • wscommuter September 13, 2018 (4:04 pm)

    My point is made.  See above.  

  • A September 13, 2018 (4:30 pm)

    Am I the only one who is puzzled by him saying he will be the first person of color elected in this district? Can’t he say first vietnamese person? I didn’t realize it was a thing now for anyone who isn’t white to say they are a person of color. I’m Mexican and I’ve never used that phrase nor have I heard other minorities use it besides African American people. Just seems odd to me and seems like a tactic he is using to garner votes. He should proudly say vietnamese but his handlers are probably telling him he will get more votes by saying person of color. Odd world we’re living in

    • WSB September 13, 2018 (5:25 pm)

      He actually DOES (including in the interview above) also say that he would be our state’s first Vietnamese-American legislator (and one of just a few in the nation). On his website too. First legislator of color from the 34th District is a more local-specific reference.

  • A September 13, 2018 (4:34 pm)

    Also, he seems like a nice enough guy and I don’t question his motives for wanting to make things better. That being said, he also seems to be in love with taxing people and has sound transits back so I can’t vote for him. A vote for mr. Nguyen is a vote for more taxes and that is something the middle class cannot afford

  • rico September 13, 2018 (5:01 pm)

    Anyone questioning the generosity of Gates and Bezos personally automatically loses credibility.  With regard to their companies, there are many other factors obviously such as investor dividends, board of directors.  By the way have you ever heard of Marys Place, gates Foundation etc?  They are smart people and do not give to lost causes like local governments and the local organizations who have received ample funding but no significant result to show.

  • Mark Schletty September 13, 2018 (5:03 pm)

    Shannon is an example of the people pushing the policies that have made our city and county less pleasant places to live. She is  under the same spell of the developers and big PAC money people that the City Council is under.  We don’t need to send her to the State government to infect them too.I’m going to vote for Joe. But, I do have to admit that the strong endorsement of Jort has me a little worried.

  • Mj September 13, 2018 (6:16 pm)

    What is not needed is more bigger government.  State has ample tax resources and needs to do a better job of prioritizing how it is spent.  Joe wants more taxes and more government.  Unfortunately, Shannon is just as bad.It would be refreshing to hear how a candidate would prioritize existing State resources, for example I would increase spending on program A and cut spending on program B to increase A for example.

  • Ferryander September 13, 2018 (6:32 pm)

    I don’t understand all the people talking about Joe raising taxes. Did we read the same article? It literally says “”Capital-gains (tax) is a very realistic thing,” he begins, while acknowledging that constituents will need to be reassured that the money would be spent wisely. So toward that end, he would seek to lower property and sales taxes and “get rid of B&O (business and occupation tax) for small and medium-sized businesses.” 

  • KM September 13, 2018 (8:02 pm)

    Has anyone else noticed the consistent terrible punctuation in recent comments on WSB? A ton of extra spaces, weird comma/no comma placements. I often type on mobile so I know I sometimes have a few typos, but these are too inconsistent to be simple typos.

    • CAM September 13, 2018 (8:35 pm)

      I don’t know if this is just me but for the last few months when I comment it doesn’t show up automatically as pending and give me the opportunity to edit it. It just disappears into the ether until it gets approved. I should probably proofread before hitting publish but sometimes you only catch it after you hit send.

    • KBear September 13, 2018 (10:47 pm)

      The tax scolds are the worst at spelling and punctuation, PERIOD. 

Sorry, comment time is over.