By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
That’s how Joe Nguyen reacted on Election Night to news the first vote count had him way ahead in the race for 34th District State Senator.
That’s how things have been since then, he told us during a recent conversation … and he’s not even officially in office yet.
We requested an interview to check in once the vote was certified, and sat down to chat on a recent Saturday morning at C & P Coffee Company (WSB sponsor) – where, one month earlier, we photographed him rallying supporters – including U.S. Rep Pramila Jayapal – for one last campaign push.
Nguyen will be sworn in on January 14th, as the Legislature opens its 2019 session, but as a senator-elect, he’s already at the center of a whirlwind of activity.
Not just because he’s made history as one of the state’s first two Vietnamese-American legislators (which led to two overlapping celebrations recently). There’s just in general a lot to do, so, he says, “I try to be in as much places as possible.”
The State Capitol is one of those places. He couldn’t be at the first post-election meeting of the 34th District Democrats because it was “committee week” in Olympia. He’s landed on some high-profile committees – Transportation and Rules – as well as the Human Services, Reentry, and Rehabilitation Committee and the Energy, Environment, and Technology Committee.
“I knew what I wanted to be on, and I was very successful in getting assignments,” Nguyen said. (Indeed, three of those committees were on the list he cited when we interviewed him back in September.) As a manager at Microsoft, he says the latter is of special interest – “I proved early on that I’m not a fake ‘tech’ person,” and he sees a lot of important decisions to be made by that committee, regarding “real climate solutions” as well as consumer protection related to problems such as data breaches. He says there’ll be a bill seeking to require companies to tell people sooner when they’ve been hacked, “so you can lock down your credit.”
Transportation, too, is an area of special interest, especially with the 34th District including ferry-reliant Vashon and Maury Islands. Last week the senator-elect was at the Triangle Route Task Force meeting packed with islanders concerned about the route’s impending schedule change.
As for the Rules Committee – Nguyen says he’s the only freshman appointed to that powerful committee, which determines which bills move to the floor. “It took some maneuvering to get on there … we’re fairly diligent.”
Diligence is what it will take, to say the least, to make progress on tax reform, which looks to be one of this year’s signature issues. A capital-gains tax was part of Governor Inslee’s budget proposal, as made public last week. Senator-elect Nguyen thinks passage of one is “likely … there’s energy behind it ..the question is just how it’s going to get passed,” as in, which version. He’s hoping for one that raises mney for early learning, special education, and health care “in addition to offsetting property taxes.”
Explaining what a capital-gains tax really is, will be the challenge, Nguyen surmises.
During the campaign, he also spoke of wanting to see B&O taxes reduced for smaller businesses, so we asked about that. Nguyen thinks that’ll be “trickier” – more technicalities to deal with, for example. No specific legislation to propose yet. Along with taxes, housing will be a big topic this session, the senator-elect expects. Also, the “regionalization of education.”
Much of what he’s been doing in these weeks leading up to the legislative session is what he was doing as we sat in the C&P Coffee business office (thanks to the Moores, who had a full house of customers that morning!) – talking. “About eight meetings a day already!” He is a little bemused to find people “blown away” by his familiarity with the issues: “You should expect more from your representatives!”
He thinks you should hear more from them too. Except in times of tumult, you don’t hear a lot about what your elected representatives are doing in Olympia, and Nguyen thinks legislators should talk more about what it is they’re doing. “We make a lot of decisions that affect people’s lives.”
Certainly the new role will change his life. Along with being a senator-elect and Microsoft manager, he is a husband, and a father of two very young children, a toddler and preschooler. His wife will take a break from her career as an educator to care for them full-time. He expects to take a few months off his job but will still do a “lot of commuting.” That means his car needs new tires and a tune-up, he laughs.
Somewhere between those eight meetings a day.