ELECTION 2021: Sen. Joe Nguyen running for King County Executive ‘to get stuff done’

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

After coasting to re-election twice, King County Executive Dow Constantine has a fight ahead in his bid for a fourth term.

As of today, it’s a battle of two West Seattleites.

This morning, two days after this year’s legislative session wrapped up, State Sen. Joe Nguyen announced that he’s running for county executive. Nothing personal, he says – saying that he even volunteered for Constantine’s first campaign in 2009 – but Nguyen says it’s time for a change. Without using the exact words, his pitch is that while the incumbent is the past, he is the future – and the person to fight for the future of even the youngest King County residents, his three small children among them.

We spoke with Nguyen before this morning’s announcement.

It’s his second run for office, and it’ll be the first time Constantine has faced significant opposition since that initial campaign for county executive a dozen years ago – he was first elected with 59 percent of the vote over Republican ex-TV news anchor Susan Hutchinson in 2009. Four years later, with only nominal opposition, Constantine won a second term with 78 percent of the vote, and again had no major challenger four years ago, winning with 77 percent. Nguyen was a first-time candidate when he won election to the 34th District State Senate seat in 2018, with 59 percent of the vote in a no-incumbent race.

With one year left in his State Senate term, Nguyen says the pandemic galvanized his decision to try to move from a part-time elected position to full time. It “has exposed gross inequities in our society that were long ignored. We have to tackle not just COVID but the racial inequities too. What we’ve been doing doesn’t work for a lot of people. We need leadership that reflects the values of the future of King County.”

Not everyone may be aware of the scope of the job. Nguyen acknowledges he’s had to explain it to some of his family members. Though most King County residents live in cities, and the county only provides municipal-type services for unincorporated-area residents (including White Center and the rest of unincorporated North Highline to West Seattle’s south), its scope for all within its borders includes much of the criminal-justice system as well as transit – Metro, the Water Taxi – and wastewater treatment.It’s the 12th-largest county in the nation, bigger than 14 states, Nguyen notes.

With a decade of work in the private sector – including management at Microsoft – he says his path has prepared him to lead on those issues. He says the more-common path to elected office is by becoming a lawyer – without naming names, that would cover Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, among others – and he feels the current overall leadership “doesn’t reflect the people.” The groundbreaking action taken by this year’s Legislature, including the capital-gains tax bill he co-sponsored, was possible because, observes Nguyen – who made history as the state’s first Vietnamese-American senator – it was “the most diverse legislative body in the history of Washington state.”

“I was born in White Center, where we’ve seen underinvestment,” he says. “We know how that affects families. Homelessness is gtting worse … The executive’s office (can) lead on so many issues, and that’s why I want to run … it affects so many parts of people’s lives. I just want to get stuff done.”

Big “stuff” awaiting the King County Executive after the election includes appointing a King County Sheriff, after voters passed a change in the county charter making that an appointed rather than an elected job (the term of the current elected sheriff, West Seattleite Mitzi Johanknecht, ends this year). The next sheriff needs to “reflect the future of policing that’s more humane,” law enforcers who are more “guardians” than “warriors.”

The death of Tommy Le, a 20-year-old Burien man killed by a sheriff’s deputy in 2017, stoked Nguyen’s anger at the system and quest to fix “things we should have done decades ago. … broken systems that we an fix,” systems “nobody cared about … nobody in power was affected by them. … We need to actually fight for our future because lives are at risk.”

We bring the conversation back to White Center, where he was born into an immigrant family, where the future of government remains unsettled – after years of insisting somebody had to annex the area, Constantine created the Department of Local Services in recognition that it wasn’t likely to happen any time soon. Nguyen said that while White Center ultimately has to decide its future – annexed or not – he’s glad to see “investment” in the area, and the county would need to continue that. Community investment is the achievement this past season of which he says he’s proudest – increased assistance for renter families in need, the kind of assistance he says benefited his family in his childhood.

He was elected from one of the bluest areas of the county, so how will he make his pitch to the more-conservative areas? Nguyen says he had “good relationships with Republicans in the Legislature despite differences on certain things … they appreciate that I show up and do the work and get things done. … But more fundamentally, I think people are tired of how politics works … I have a business background and have fought for, will fight for communities. Honestly, the demographics have shifted … more people than ever identify as Democrats.” And he’s worked in east King County for the past decade.

What does his wife Tallie, a former teacher, think about the possible new job? “Excited but nervous … it’s hard but we’re not just fighting for ‘now,’ we’re fighting for the future, fighting for our kids … who will be affected by climate change, child care, education … This moment is big. It’s time for transformative change.”

The formal filing period isn’t until next month, so we won’t know the final lineup for the August 3rd primary until then. But Nguyen is off and running with his first public campaign event at Hing Hay Park later this morning.

53 Replies to "ELECTION 2021: Sen. Joe Nguyen running for King County Executive 'to get stuff done'"

  • Jort April 27, 2021 (9:27 am)

    I am happy to support ANY politician running for office who sees The Seattle Process for the civic cancer that it is and fights to destroy it. Seattle politicians have a deep fear of risk-taking, particularly when those risks stand a chance of upsetting the no-longer-in-any-way-powerful Seattle Times Editorial Board or, perhaps even worse, the Seattle Times comment section comprised of angry reactionaries in Auburn. King County is one of the most liberal places in America, and our politicians govern it constantly cowering in fear that they are one mean Seattle Times comment away from losing all their jobs. Sen. Joe Nguyen realizes that a liberal population, by its nature, demands liberal action for government to live up to our values. I hope he wins and takes on entrenched mentalities about what is possible when our government works swiftly to work for us, rather than strategically deploying bureaucracy and endless, useless “outreach” to cynically impede progress. If you live up to these ideals, Joe, you’ll have my support.

    • Josh April 27, 2021 (10:24 am)

      I was going to comment, but JORT took the words out of my mouth! Best of luck, Joe. Stick to your values and commitments, and we’ve got your back! 

      • Fresh air April 27, 2021 (5:44 pm)

         Dow Constantine  must go. He is nothing but mouthpiece and has no use for real people.  Out of touch showboat.

    • Pessoa April 27, 2021 (10:27 am)

      We might have a rare intersection of agreement here, Jort, in terms of uncloaking that chummy “deus ex machina” Seattle political process, the local boy network.  You’re also correct about the aversion to risk-taking (there is another less delicate word for this) and it is particularly noticeable in this corner of the country.  The so-called Seattle Process is simply a way of diluting individual risk by involving others in policy decisions.      

  • Admiral parent April 27, 2021 (9:51 am)

    I think that someone who is determined to get things done in government is refreshing.   I think his tech background could be useful as well. Go for it Joe!

  • Derek April 27, 2021 (10:20 am)

    Dow has been a major disappointment. I welcome ANY change at this point.

  • Anne April 27, 2021 (10:32 am)

    Wont’t vote for Dow & totally opposed to Joe. Had a big laugh at Jorts “ angry reactionaries’ comment- he should know!

    • Ron Swanson April 27, 2021 (4:46 pm)

      What a pithy way to reveal you don’t understand what the word “reactionary” means

      (Jort’s quixotic crusade for a car-free city is the opposite of reactionary, commenters on here lamenting the loss of free parking are the definition of it)

  • Shufflerunner April 27, 2021 (10:52 am)

    I like Joe and all but… I don’t see running on essentially the same platform with less name recognition in the county as a winning strategy.   So far his wedge issues seem to be:1. Dow has a law degree and he is from the business field and trying to spin that as being more for the people. Now, I’m not a law talking guy but I do hold my fair share of experience from the business side and as they say “the business of business is business” (money). Business and Government have fundamentally different priorities and one of these candidates has more experience and understanding of how to govern effectively.   2. The King County Sheriffs department is in need of systemic reforms. I totally agree. You know who else agrees? Dow, and he’s taken steps to enact that reform. I personally voted against giving the county counsel and executive more power over the sheriff but after her recent handling of high profile incidents I’m glad to see I was mistakenly in the minority.3. Unincorporated King county needs a greater investment in services to bring them in line with surrounding areas. I agree and so does Dow as shown in the story above. 4. Dow is old… probably not a great point to bang on since older voters turn out in higher percentages. Although Joe is the exact median age for the county, so he has that going for him. Zooming out this looks more like a bid for Joe to position himself as the obvious choice when Dow eventually runs for governor (against Denny, Bob Ferguson, Kulp (again), and probably Good Space Guy) in the future.    

    • Steve April 27, 2021 (11:24 am)

      Shufflerunner, you are right on here.  Dow is fine, Joe is fine (albeit less experienced), and in all likelihood he’s just getting in line for when Dow leaves this post.

    • Derek April 27, 2021 (12:41 pm)

      Dow’s whole mishap with the youth jail is enough to vote him out. Terrible incarceration rate of minors. He’s putting kids in jail for no reason other than being poor. It’s absurd. 

  • Hau April 27, 2021 (10:54 am)

    Excited for this! Sen. Nguyen has been impressively responsive and willing to engage whenever I have reached out to him with questions or concerns. 

  • Paulie April 27, 2021 (10:58 am)

    Nguyen has been awful in the state senate, definitely won’t be getting my vote.

    • D-Ridge April 27, 2021 (12:18 pm)

      Want to explain why you feel that?

  • TM7302 April 27, 2021 (10:58 am)

    Let me get this right… we need more liberalism?  How has liberalism worked in Seattle for the past decade?  Homelessness is up.  Violence is up.  Taxes are up.  Addiction, drug use and OD deaths are up.  Uh huh, sounds like we’re about to get more of the same…

    • Ivan Weiss April 27, 2021 (12:00 pm)

      @ TM7302:You know what ISN’T up? The percentage of votes for conservatives or conservatism.

    • Scubafrog April 27, 2021 (1:18 pm)

      How bout tucker carlson, trump, another pandemic and millions more gop lies Woooooo gop Woooooooo those dag nabbin Truth-Tellin Libs!

    • Um, No! April 27, 2021 (1:28 pm)

      Silly @TM7302  –  Don’t you know?  It’s all the Police Department and Amazon’s fault.  How could we ever hold our elected city and state officials responsible for these things?  What do you think their job is?  How can we expect them to try and improved what’s wrong with this city?  I mean, clearly we haven’t expected much of them in the past so why change now?

    • Jort April 27, 2021 (1:52 pm)

      How has liberalism worked in Seattle for the past decade? I don’t know, check your home values (among the greatest percentage growth in America AND the planet), or check the number of jobs added, or check the rise of some of the most financially successful companies in human history. Cities are not judged by their homelessness, alone, and while that is a problem, it is downright stupid to claim that liberalism has completely failed here. Also, too, if you are in search of a less liberal place to live, you can move almost anywhere else in America, because this is a city and region that is EXTREMELY liberal and, I don’t know about you, but I don’t see that really changing any time soon, least of all because of an edgy internet comment or how much false hope that conservatives get from The Seattle Times Editorial Board.

    • SeaVieu April 27, 2021 (5:07 pm)

      You know what else is up? The number of children attending preschool, which is proven to predict success in school (and therefore life), thanks to the Seattle Preschool Program.  As Biden eyes a similar national initiative, Seattle is leading on progressive issues with proven cost-benefit ratios. I’m proud of that.

    • Derek April 28, 2021 (9:30 am)

      We need left of liberalism in Seattle. We need compassion approach to houseless situation and not one of disregard for human life. I am so tired of seeing politicians use human beings as pawns instead of fixing the sky rocketing housing prices. 

  • newnative April 27, 2021 (11:09 am)

    I find Joe Nguyen’s “roll up the sleeves and get to work” approach to civic duty very refreshing. 

    • Anne April 27, 2021 (1:37 pm)

      so “rolling up the sleeves “ is the magic bean huh? Wow- what a low bar- how about specifics – not just what he WANTS to do – but HOW he expects to do it? Many voters here seem to care little for specifics from candidates -if they have  a spiffy catch phrase the vote is theirs. 

  • MrsT April 27, 2021 (11:14 am)

    Love the great work Joe has done as our Rep. Also entirely sick of Dow Constantine. Joe’s going to win it for sure!

  • Pessoa April 27, 2021 (11:50 am)

    Constantine is the very definition of the safe, risk-adverse politician who shrewdly knows how to rally both sides of the Seattle political spectrum –  the “bootstrap” conservatives and “champagne” socialists – when radical reforms or policies go too far.   As a native, he knows his audience.   

  • anonyme April 27, 2021 (11:58 am)

    I don’t think Joe has proven that he is an instrument for change during his short tenure in the senate, so find it ironic that he would challenge someone else “to get stuff done”.  What has Joe done?  Much as I’d love to see Dow gone, I’m not sure Joe is the change we need.

    • jissy April 27, 2021 (2:31 pm)

      “Much as I’d love to see Dow gone, I’m not sure Joe is the change we need.”  Agreed, Anonyme… praying to Mother Earth there is a 3rd, more realistic candidate choice.  But around these parts, I’m for sure cautious what I wish for.

  • justme April 27, 2021 (12:18 pm)

    Everyone seems to start out with their sleeves rolled up, then end up with their knuckles by their feet. One can go into politics with good intentions, then fall to majority thinking eventually. It would take a revolution to turn things around here.

    • Jort April 27, 2021 (1:54 pm)

      At least Joe isn’t succumbing to fatalism on this and is approaching it with a fresh perspective. Yeah, there are challenges, yeah, it’s going to be hard to dislodge the incredibly entrenched forces of resistance built into this city and county’s politics for decades, but at least somebody is willing to say, “screw that, we’re going to be bold.” It’s time for a generational change in mindset about what government is capable of doing here.

  • K April 27, 2021 (1:02 pm)


  • TreeHouse April 27, 2021 (1:18 pm)

    What exciting and unexpected news! Joe has my vote.

  • StopCuttingDownTrees April 27, 2021 (2:46 pm)

    Senator Joe Nguyen has broken his sworn oath to uphold the State and U.S. Constitutions almost immediately after taking office. I refuse to vote for him or Constantine and I sincerely hope other, more-qualified candidates come forward to challenge the status quo.

    • Neighbor April 27, 2021 (4:46 pm)

      What do you mean? Interested to learn more on your comment because it’s a pretty big one 

      • StopCuttingDownTrees April 27, 2021 (6:48 pm)

        Senator Joe Nguyen has sponsored several bills to restrict Second Amendment rights just hours after being sworn in. He immediately sponsored a bill to prohibit the most commonly-owned firearms, which is in clear violation of our State/U.S. Constitutions. Likewise, he has sponsored and co-sponsored every anti-Second Amendment bill since he’s been in office. He also co-sponsored the bill to tax capital gains, which is also prohibited under our State Constitution. King County residents deserve better than an Executive who has contempt for our civil rights.

        • Jort April 27, 2021 (9:54 pm)

          Ooo, careful when you say “prohibited.” Unless you’re a Supreme Court justice, and I’m willing to bet 1,000 quadrillion billion quintillion dollars you’re not, you don’t get to make the determination about whether those policy positions are “prohibited.” You can have an opinion on them, which is cool and all, but you don’t get to just flat out say, “THEY ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL.” Not your call.

        • Melissa April 27, 2021 (9:58 pm)

          Have you ever looked at what people were armed with when the 2nd Amendment was written? And if you’re against taxing the rich, who would you like to see taxed? You don’t need to like what Sen. Nguyen believes, but stop behaving as if you have some sort of moral high ground.

          • StopCuttingDownTrees April 27, 2021 (11:17 pm)

            Yes, when the Second Amendment was written the public was armed with state-of-the-art military weapons. Today, no one is armed with military weapons. Joe wants to ban civilian weapons. And, once again, an income tax (capital gains are income) very clearly violates the Washington State Constitution, which is another example of Senator Joe Nguyen violating his sworn oath to uphold it.

          • Foop April 29, 2021 (4:09 am)

            That cap gain tax is one of the best things we’ve passed in years, regardless of whether you call it an income tax or not, the courts will decide. Our constitution needs to change, our current tax structure only hurts us more as a city and as a state.Care to be more specific on what 2A rights have been threatened? Or are you just invoking a bogeyman with vagueries to justify what is likely a predetermined down allot decision? Nothing you mentioned has any substance and is mostly just riddled with fox news buzz words.

  • whalewatcher April 27, 2021 (2:48 pm)

    They’re both legislators with real skill and content knowledge. I want each to stay where he is.

  • onion April 27, 2021 (4:01 pm)

    Didn’t we just elect Joe, and now he’s already looking to jump to the next level? I have nothing against ambition, but I can’t help but think that Joe envisions yet another leap in a few years to Congress, the Senate, or the governorship.

  • GF April 27, 2021 (4:52 pm)

    I elected Joe to be my State senator. Why can’t he finish his term? Seems this younger generation doesn’t finish their job before eyeing another. Dow has been consistent and had done a bang up job getting us thru this pandemic. Dow has my vote.

    • K April 27, 2021 (8:18 pm)

      Yeah, those dang youths! They should definitely sit back and wait until it’s their turn to address our impending climate catastrophes and various inequalities that are costing people their lives that were created by previous generations! Ugh. Millennials. 

  • Mellow Kitty April 27, 2021 (5:28 pm)

    I’m so done with the, “I want to get things done” slogan. I want to go to the moon (I have no clue how to, no training or financing and I don’t know anything about being an astronaut – thus – it probably won’t happen) I just want to. Wanting something done, and taking action to get something done are two different things. Also, stop the finger pointing, pearl-clutching nonsense – THAT accomplishes exactly zero positive results. I don’t care what “they” did or didn’t do. I want to know how YOU plan to get “things” done. What are your strategies? How will you see it through? What’s the end goal? What’s the starting point? What’s your timeline? How are you going to pay for it etc? These are all steps and questions that should be answered and outlined in advance. Don’t tell me you have a plan – tell me what plan is and how you’ll accomplish it.

  • WACSO April 27, 2021 (5:45 pm)

    Happy to support this stellar leader.  Want to talk about electronic safeguards as he worked on an important piece of legislature guarding privacy. The WSP is running illegal fake sting ops lying they are saving kids, but the truth is quite opposite.   At arrest they confiscate all electronic devices and extract all info.  Think about the ramifications.  Where is all this data and info stored?  Who has access to it?  I certainly do not trust the WSP or police. 

    • Pessoa April 28, 2021 (7:34 pm)

      “No more secrets, Marty.”   A line from “Sneakers,” the 1992 film about computer security featuring Robert Redford and Ben Kingsley.  In 2021 there is no more privacy, either.  Everyone of us has a digital doppelganger, augmented with AI, roaming the internet that becomes more “real” every time we tap the keyboard.  The real battle is over individual sovereignty, who will own the rights to “you.”   Do you think Joe Nguyen, or Dow Constantine are going to go to the mat for your civil liberties over their political ambitions?  I wouldn’t bet the data farm on it. 

        • Pessoa April 29, 2021 (9:35 am)

          Thanks for the link. The bill does not limit the use of facial recognition, it only establishes so-called “safeguards” that are virtually meaningless and difficult to enforce, even if there is the political will to do so.    How will we interpret – and who will interpret – the following language that is extracted directly from the bill’s text:  “Accordingly, legislation is required to establish safeguards that will allow state and local government agencies to use facial recognition services in a manner that benefits society while prohibiting uses that threaten our democratic freedoms and put our civil liberties at risk.”   The dystopian future is already here, and we are frighteningly eager to give up civil liberties in order to feel safe and “taken care of.”   

  • wscommuter April 27, 2021 (8:57 pm)

    I’m amused at the enthusiasm for Mr. Nguyen.  He is a very nice person; smart and decent.  But green as hell … and completely unprepared to be King County Executive.  He does need some experience and seasoning in the nuts and bolts of actual governing before taking on this significant job, which is exponentially more complicated than his current role.  In a few years, if he is willing to stick with learning government (and by indications, I think he is), he could earn my vote.  But he is not ready now.   For those who think that because he is more to the left than Dow Constantine, that’s all that matters, you  might consider which is more important to you: an ideological soulmate or technical competence.  It’s fine to disagree with Constantine’s policies or the way he does his job – by all means, vote against him if you feel that way.  But don’t kid yourself that Nguyen is ready for this job.  

  • AnyoneotherthenDow April 27, 2021 (11:07 pm)

    Dow is a career politician and has completely lost touch. Anyone is better then him! Joe has my full support and vote! 

  • RealDeal April 28, 2021 (9:44 am)

    My interaction with Joe is swift action with deep concern for his constituents.  He does not sit idly by and has an amazing work ethic.  It isn’t for show or self absorption and unlike others he really cares about the issues we face in West Seattle.  This is what we truly need right now.  

  • en April 28, 2021 (1:35 pm)

     Dow need to go  we need term limits.

  • Lola April 28, 2021 (3:34 pm)

    I went to School with Dow and have never voted for him.  He needs to go now along with about a dozen other people.  Joe has my vote.  

  • Admiral neighbor April 28, 2021 (9:16 pm)

    I think that the County Executive role is one of not just politics but it is a manager role and needs a steady hand stewarding our limited public resources.   So management experience matters – not just “passion”I can’t help but notice that neither of the candidates have mentioned gender equity despite the “She-cession”.   Dow’s King County policy has been “We Lead with Race”.   This is admirable.  However we can all succeed and help each other move forward.  I would be interested to see how women have done under his leadership.  He has been in place for a very long time and the proof is in the pudding.I’m sure they are helped greatly by the fact that their partners can stay at home to look after their kids.  I respect that choice.  But can they truly understand dual income or single moms with careers?   

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