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Hacks & Wonks

Jun 16, 2021

Today on the show Crystal is joined again by Senator Joe Nguyen, this time to talk about his decision to run for King County Executive. They discuss why he chose to take on one of the longest serving public officials in the area, combating climate change through a lense of equality and equity, why Senator Nguyen believes the people of King County are ready for change, and so much more.

As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at

Find the host, Crystal Fincher on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today’s guest, Senator Joe Nguyen, at @meetjoenguyen. More info is available at



“Understanding the King County Budget” from King County:

“What would it cost to house and provide treatment for Seattle’s homeless?” by Scott Greenstone:

“Supporting homeless individuals: How much do we spend?” by Manola Secaira:,was%20more%20than%20%241%20billion.

“Seattle taxes ranked most unfair in Washington – a state among the harshest on the poor nationwide” by Gene Balk:

“County Exec Candidates Spar Over PACs, City Finally Funds Street Sinks” from Publicola:

“A guide to political money: campaigns, PACs, and super PACs” by Philip Elliot:

“Democracy vouchers: They worked, now here are five ways to make them better” by Joe Nguyen:

“Washington high court charts less punitive path on juvenile justice” by Claudia Rowe:

“In Seattle’s polluted valley, pandemic and particulates are twin threats” by John Ryan:

“The Case for Making Transit Free (and How to Pay for It)” by David Gordon:



Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hacks and Wonks. I'm your host Crystal Fincher. On this show we talk to political hacks and policy wonks to gather insight in the local politics and policy through the lens of those doing the work, and provide behind the scenes perspectives on politics in our state. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available and in our episode notes. Today, we're happy to welcome back someone who's been on the show before, but not in his current capacity as a candidate for King County Executive. Thank you for joining us today, Joe Nguyen.

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:01:02] Thank you so much for having me. I'm very glad to be back.

Crystal Fincher: [00:01:06] Yes. So, we've had conversations with you as a senator during the legislative session. We've talked about a lot that you were working on and that you had accomplished in that capacity. But now, you're running against Dow Constantine who has been a King County Executive establishment, basically. He's been there 12 years?

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:01:24] Yeah.

Crystal Fincher: [00:01:24] It's been a long time and a lot of people have looked at him as, "Oh, he's just there. He's not going to be challenged. He's a Democrat. King County elects Democrats. So, here we go." Then, you walked in, they're like, "Not so fast." What made you decide to challenge Dow Constantine, especially as another Democrat?

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:01:43] Yeah, I think really in this moment, when you're trying to get past the pandemic, not just of COVID but also racial inequities, we are seeing how much success we can have when you have legislators who have lived experience, who are fighting with the fierce urgency to get things done. Really, the success in the legislature this past year was part of that inspiration. Seeing so much can be accomplished, say for instance, on progressive revenue, on police accountability, on climate, basic needs programs, childcare. All these things were possible before yet they weren't getting done.

A lot of it is because the community now is being uplifted and amplified. So, for me, all of the legislation that we're passing at the State then has to be implemented at the local level as well. It's nothing against the current incumbent. I just feel that in this moment we need change and we need somebody who reflects the values of this community in the future, what King County looks like. Of all the things that we care about, in our campaign, whether it's police accountability, climate, transit, those all happen at the county level. I think that we are at a very, very unique moment to get a lot of stuff done.

Crystal Fincher: [00:02:49] All right. So, you say nothing against the current incumbent, but as you said, in your opinion, a lot needs to change. You've certainly not hesitated to be spicy on Twitter in clapping back to some things that he said. So, I guess, what do you think does need to change and where do you think that Dow has not met the mark?

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:03:09] Well, systems of power tend to reflect the people who create them. That's just how it works. It's so much that it's baked into our system. When you go look for a job, what do people tell you? It's not what you know, it's who you know, right? That is baked into our system. It is very hard to get systemic change when the people who are in power benefit from that system. There are just some key differences in which I would behave versus say, for instance, the incumbent. One of the examples is that in White Center, they were going to site a COVID facility, which I supported and said it was fine.

I did say, "Hey, you should probably give folks a heads up because if you don't, there's going to be a lot of distrust and it's going to become a contentious issue." They didn't, and there's a history of this type of behavior where you're not having enough conversations at the local level. So, for me, I think what community has always done in the past is fight to make sure that their issue was being heard. But I want to be able to flip that. I want to be able to have community members have their voices be uplifted and amplified instead.

I think that's truly transformative. So, I think it's just a mindset of how we would lead. Mine would be much more community focused and rooted in the folks who were impacted by policy and less top-down.

Crystal Fincher: [00:04:24] All right. Well, Dow Constantine has certainly talked a lot about addressing homelessness, about leading a regional effort to address that and has a task force, or I forget the exact word of it.

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:04:39] The Regional Authority.

Crystal Fincher: [00:04:39] Yes, to address that and recently made a hire for someone to lead that. How do you think that's going? Do you think that he's on the right track or would you do things differently?

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:04:51] I will say that we've declared an emergency on homelessness over six years ago. In fact, it had been an emergency for even longer. I remember when I was in college back in 2006 and we had kicked off the ten-year plan to end homelessness. So, in King County we've talked about ending homelessness for decades, literally decades, and things don't seemed to be getting better. So, to be honest he's had 12 years as an incumbent to solve the issue. I'm not sure if four years he's going to be able to change it if he couldn't do it in 12. I think we just need leadership that looks at it a little bit different.

What I will say is that the reason why in the legislature I tackled anti-poverty efforts as one of the key focus has been because you have to solve the systemic issues as they relate to homelessness, in addition to the short-term as well. If you don't turn off the spigot of folks who are becoming homeless, it becomes very difficult to alleviate it on the ground level. So, it's a multi-jurisdictional approach and it's completely true that it should be a regional approach. I'm very excited about that model. I was able to meet Marc Dones at a housing conference years ago before I was even in the legislature and was so impressed by them.

So, I think that leadership is going to be a fantastic one, but it's not just King County as well. It has to be the state and it has to be the federal government. So, the King County Executive is in charge of a $12 billion budget. King County itself is the 12th largest county in the United States. It is bigger than 14 states. So, that position is more than just a county executive. It can be a bully pulpit to actually help influence policies at the state and the federal level as well. I think we need to be doing more in terms of alleviating homelessness, because it's cheaper to keep somebody housed than it is to take them out of homelessness.

That's a lot of what the work we've been doing at the legislature, that in conjunction with the regional plan, I think, is the right move. But we can't look at it from a very myopic way. I'm glad that we're buying hotels. That's not going to be sufficient to alleviate homelessness. We need to be doing more in basic needs investments as well. So, the fact that we spend 73% of the County General Fund, 73% of the County General Fund goes towards law enforcement and the court system, not antipoverty, not human services. We have to fundamentally shift how we address problems.

Crystal Fincher: [00:07:04] So, you say addressing basic needs, you say that we need to certainly house people and that's cheaper than allowing them to languish unhoused and all of the problems at cascade because of that, what specifically is involved with basic needs, and when you say we need to house people, specifically how?

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:07:23] Yeah. So, let's think long-term. So, we'll start longterm and we'll go more short term as well. So, my family, when we were growing up, we benefited from being on what's called TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Locally, I think folks call it welfare in a derogatory term. So, when I grew up, we relied on that service. I think it was about a few hundred dollars a month. That was the key that kept us in our homes. We also grew up in public housing, so social housing as well. So, in my mind there's a few things that we can be doing. We can be doing more for housing as it relates to those on the margins.

We've moved away from that social housing. We moved more towards what's called affordable housing. Oftentimes the calculations for affordable isn't truly affordable for those who make very little, like my family did back in the day. So, we have a lot of civic land, surplus lands that we can then use to build, I think, more social housing for those who need it the most. We also need to improve our stock of affordable housing as well. That's going to require public-private partnerships, which we're seeing happen now with the private sector, providing lower cost loans and whatnot.

We can help certainly with permitting. We can help certainly with planning as well. By the way, we could also use what's called cross-laminated timber in order for us to be more mindful of climate, in addition to having it be done near transit centers. So, we need more housing. We need more social housing to keep those on the margins most impacted by the housing insecurity as well. So, those are investments we've been making at the State. We've then also tried to tackle a regressive tax structure. I think the root cause to a lot of these issues is the inequities in our tax structure, which has been done on purpose, in my mind, to keep certain people out of our economic system.

Because of that, it's exacerbated over time. So, the fact that we funded the Working Families Tax Credit for the first time after it was passed 12 years ago, and by the way includes ITIN filers as well. So, those who don't have Social Security numbers. I think that's all part of it, is that if you look at those types of investments over the longterm, that's how you keep people stable. That's how you keep people housed. Then, even for cap gains, that money goes towards more affordable childcare. That money goes towards a more equitable tax structure, and that money goes towards investments in infrastructure as well.

So, we can do all of these things at the state level, but we require implementation at the county and local level. For a long time, it's been the missing middle -- candidly. I think Seattle gets a lot of attention. The legislature gets a lot of attention. Folks aren't quite sure what the county does. I think Girmay [Zahilay] really put the county on the map in recent years as well. So, I think people are now paying attention to how that impacts their daily lives. That's why we need leadership at that level who reflects the future of what we can be doing, not just what we've been doing in the past.

Crystal Fincher: [00:10:17] So, you talk about reflecting what we can be doing, not just what we've been doing in the past. That's going to take strong leadership, certainly to move in a more progressive direction to do things differently than you've done before. You come from a legislative body, in the legislature and it's one person in the midst of several coming together to make decision. But the ultimate blame, if something goes wrong, usually doesn't land on one person. The ultimate credit usually doesn't go to one person because you're acting in concert.

King County Executive is very different, similar to the mayor at the end of the day, people are looking to you to get things done. So, how do you think you're uniquely qualified, especially coming from a different kind of background in the legislature to take on the task of running everything at the county?

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:11:03] Yeah. Thank you for that question. What's interesting is both people know me because of my work in the legislature, because we've been very active over the past few years. If you look at my body of work even beforehand -- so, I actually have a finance and economics background out of college. I used to manage a portfolio of about $150 million. I was a senior strategist for the CFO of Expedia. I've been in leadership positions at startup companies. I've managed hundreds of millions of dollars. I've managed teams that were in the hundreds as well. Then, now, I'm at Microsoft doing strategy and analytics.

So, my whole background is actually more robust than most people who've run for executive office in the first place. So, if you look at most folks, it's lawyer, public office, and then ran for executive office. They've never actually had executive experience before they ran for office. So, the fact that I already have significant executive experience, I also have a tremendous amount of success in the public sector. Most importantly, the lived experience of people who've been impacted by bad policy, I think that makes me uniquely qualified to serve as King County Executive, is because we have that ability to look at things different.

What's funny is that there's been news articles written about how we've managed our office in the legislature, of how it was different. I don't think people realize it, but the bar, apparently, the bar is not super high. One of the news articles that people wrote was the fact that I use an app to schedule my meetings. I don't know if you saw this, but in the legislature, when I first came in, I just looked at it and said, "Hey, this doesn't make any sense." So, I documented every single step to pass legislation, there's about 153. I noticed that a third of the times a bill dies.

But then, I also noticed there was a tremendous amount of effort spent in the wrong places. So, the most important thing that you have in the legislature is your team, your staff. I want to make sure that we are able to free them up to do good work as much as possible, and that a lot of our staff members were, in fact, just spending time in emails and then scheduling meetings. By having an app, we were able to save about six hours a day per day. So, by doing that, it freed them up. That's how we're able to be more effective in terms of communicating with constituents, getting more in-depth with policy. It just blew people's minds.

I had people coming to my office just to take a look at how we were doing things. It was just how you would normally do it if you were just running a small business. You have to be more efficient just because you have limited capacity, limited resources to try and be effective. So, it's interesting seeing that translate into the public sector, how successful that can be. I think we could do it more at the county as well, but also just in general is being able to bring 21st century techniques and tools to a body that is not necessarily known for being as agile as it can be.

Crystal Fincher: [00:13:42] All right. So, we could expect to see different, newer, updated, "today" type things from Joe Nguyen. You talked about doing things differently.

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:13:50] Yeah.

Crystal Fincher: [00:13:51] There was a conversation in a recent forum where you talked about doing things differently, including not taking money from PACs. You said that you're committing to not taking money from corporate PACs, that you've never taken money from corporate PACs. Dow Constantine said, "Now hold up. It looks like you have taken money from several PACs, from the Washington Beer and Wine Distributors Association, from Federation of State Employees. A number of them, from labor union PACs, to housing PACs, to you name it, building trades. So, one, there have been PACs and there are others, just different associations.

You've taken money from them. You've taken money from the State Dental PAC. How is that different than saying that you're taking money from a corporate PAC? Is that really a fair bar, if there is little differentiation between what type of PAC, who is the PAC? It seems like it might be splitting hairs a little bit. How do you answer that?

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:14:57] Well, no. Actually, I do think it's very different. So, corporate PACs serve a special interest for a particular organization in a particular company. If you look at the money in politics, that's oftentimes the problem, is that people are trying to buy their way into access. I will point out that all those things came in after I had won. So, I won before any of those things came in. So, I'll just be very clear. What's funny is that even when I saw some of those associations, I wasn't sure how that should be classified. I asked some of our more progressive congressional leaders and progressive members as well.

That was a differentiation, where it is okay to get money from people, but not necessarily the corporations themselves or the PACs associated with it. So, first off, if there is a distinction between the two, which I think that there is, I'd be happy to have the incumbent just do the same thing that I'm doing. So, give back all the corporate PAC money, give back all the money from corporations and that's totally fine. But because -- the reason why they're different is because they serve different interests. The reason why I support labor communities and the reason why I'm okay with taking funding from labor communities is because they serve the people.

So, as long as it's focused on the people in the community, it's fine. If it's more to be in self-service to themselves, that's a very different type of story as well. But the incumbent has been around for a long time. I noticed that he did give back money from oil and gas companies and pharmaceutical companies as well. So, obviously there is some sort of difference in terms of where money comes from. We've just never taken it in the past. Even in this race, we don't take any corporate PACs. We don't even take any money from associations. It's been 100% individuals as well.

So, I don't know. If it seems like splitting hairs then that's fine. They can do the exact same thing we're doing, give back all the money you've ever received from corporations and their PACs and only do associations and labor unions. But I do think that they're very different.

Crystal Fincher: [00:16:47] So, do you consider something like the Washington Beer and Wine Distributors Association? By the way, lots of people enjoy, love beer and wine distributors. I certainly partake, so no shade to the organization, just in this conversation. An organization like that, which is a business lobby, really, and they're acting on behalf of their business members. Do you consider that to be something like a corporate PAC, where it's not a union, it's not something else, or do you just put that in a different category?

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:17:21] I think it's an association of people. So, as long as you're not taking from a specific business or a specific corporation, but I concede -- that is a very fair point. I've actually had some conversations with even one of our current and state-wide elected officials about their bar, because he probably has the most streak in terms of what type of money he gets. What I will say is that I have had people and their corporations try to give me stacks of checks before they realize that I didn't take corporate PAC money. They do that on purpose because they want to buy your influence.

So, it's not as if it's an accident. So, I'm okay with associations. If folks want to raise the bar and take no money from any associations or any PACs, let's have that conversation because I do believe that money corrupts politics, and that's fundamentally one of the problems. In that point, I would actually support democracy vouchers for King County as well. I think we should have that --

Crystal Fincher: [00:18:13] that's not a bad idea. It's a pretty good idea.

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:18:15] It's a good idea. You know what's funny? Is when Seattle Democracy Voucher first came out, I was skeptical at first. Then, my background is in analytics. So, after the first election where the mayoral race didn't have access to Democracy Vouchers but the council races did, it was a perfect case study to see the impacts of Democracy Vouchers. I published an article in the South Seattle Emerald that showed that by having Democracy Vouchers you level the playing field, you have a more diverse candidate pool. You have a more diverse donation pool. You have younger people, people of color involved in politics that they had not been before.

Then, by the way, you also included a lot of -- oftentimes you'll have outside influences on politics within Seattle. So, the percentage of money from outside Seattle versus inside was a lot less for Democracy Vouchers too. So, I think it's a great investment towards making our free and fair elections better, but no, that's a great conversation to have. I think we should have it. So, I don't take corporate money. I don't take money from corporations and their PACs. There is certainly a nuance in terms of what associations might count. But if we want to have that conversation, let's just not take any money from corporations or the PACs and let's have the discussion about associations and we can go from there.

Crystal Fincher: [00:19:25] That makes sense. Now, talking about keeping the public safe, which includes policing, in today's conversation. Especially at the county, the issue of the youth jail has certainly been big and visible with people saying, "Why, if we're saying that we want to move in a direction, are we building a jail for kids?" A lot of strong opposition to that. Now, there's also a new opportunity with appointing a new sheriff, where we're moving away from electing the sheriff. King County very strongly said, "Hey, we want to do things differently." Actually, lots of people talk about this conversation about public safety and, "Hey, this is just a Seattle thing."

But voters countywide said, "You know what? We know that we need to move in a different direction. This is where we want to go." They voted for some substantial change within the county. So, in terms of what a Nguyen administration would look like, how would that be different than what the Constantine administration has looked like? What are your specific plans in terms of the King County Sheriff, the department, and incarceration across the county?

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:20:43] Yeah. No, I agree. Like I mentioned before, 73% of the County General Fund goes towards our legal system. So, instead of trying to solve for the root causes of crime, which is oftentimes poverty, we just went ahead and criminalized it. That fundamentally is the problem. So, there's a few different aspects that I would tackle. So, first off, as it relates to the youth jail. So, the church where I grew up happened to be next to the youth jail, the area where we lined up in the morning on Sundays, you can see the cells from where were lined up. I remember a lot of the youth pastors at that point said, "Hey, if you're bad, you're going to end up there."

Such a gross feeling for me just because whenever I look into those cells I saw kids that looked like me, and I just never liked that spot in the first place. That's why I'm so viscerally against it. In fact, one of my first bills, literally my first bill that passed on the Senate floor was a bill that would allow for law enforcement to refer youth to community facilities instead of having to go to the legal system as a whole. So, we've been working on this for the past few years. The difference is I would have listened to community members. Community members said, there were better ways than youth incarceration, there were better ways in building a bigger jail.

Smaller therapeutic community-based organizations can help mitigate and lower the rates of youth detention. They were right. They built the jail anyway. Now, after it was built, they say, "Oh, it turns out you were right. We shouldn't have built it in the first place and then shut it down." That blows my mind. Imagine if you were able to spend $240 million on diversion and youth programs versus a jail. Imagine what better spot we would be in right now. So, the difference from a high level is that I would have listened to community members. I would have listened to the science and looked at the results and then make a decision based off of that.

That's the first one. There are statutory requirements to have some sort of facility in order to maintain a process, but it didn't have to be a big jail. It could've been smaller therapeutic center as well. So, I'll put that one out there. There are a whole host of things that we can do. Everything from risk-based assessments, because the first thing that people are going to say is, "Well, there are going to be kids who are really, really bad and you don't know what to do with them." Well, first off, the number of kids who are in that category is very small. So, if all you have is a hammer, everything is going to look like a nail.

So, we have to get away from that mindset and be able to actually address the root causes of some of these things. You can have what's called respite centers, where you have behavioral and mental health services onsite to help calm things down. So, certainly you can be able to have a facility to handle the most dire needs because we already spend so much money on that legal system. But for the majority of people, it should be more therapeutic, more humane, more community-based, that'd be the first one. In fact, they are doing it now. Choose 180, Credible Messengers, there are programs that are out there doing it right now because they were doing it before, we knew that they existed before.

So, you would double down on some of those efforts. In terms of the Sheriff's office specifically, I thought that was a great move to make it an appointed process. Especially as a person who is currently running for office, I do know that running for office, the people that we elect aren't always the best people. It's just the people that were able to get elected. So, I think it's better to have a more thoughtful approach to something that is that important. The mindset that somebody in that position should have is a guardian. We need to change the culture of how we handle policing in King County.

That person has to be a guardian and not necessarily a warrior in this space. So, we will look for somebody and it'll be based off of community input as well. So, oftentimes when we see leadership, a leader makes a decision, tells the community, and then thinks that counts as community engagement. I see it all the time. You've probably seen it all the time. That's not how it should be. They should be part of the process. Being able to have the discussions as we go along. One of the things that I would look for is how forward-thinking they are in terms of what the role of law enforcement should be

because there's a lot of things that law enforcement is in charge of right now that I don't think you need somebody with a gun to be able to handle. One of the last bills or the last bill that I dropped before the session was over related to what's called pre-textual stops. Things like broken tail lights, expire tabs, something dangling from your rear view mirror. These are the things that do not pose a risk to somebody, but oftentimes half of the incidences where there's violence with law enforcement are because of what's called pre-textual stops. I think that should be removed from a uniformed officer that has a weapon.

They could cite the person simply with the license plate. You can have a completely different department. Same thing with behavioral and mental health responses and stuff like that, where we should rethink the rule of policing in King County, because it would make it safer for the community. It also makes it safer for law enforcement as well. We have examples of how this has done well in other jurisdictions, whether it's one of the [Scandinavian] countries that are out there, but we're not reinventing the wheel. There are other examples of ways to do it better.

Crystal Fincher: [00:25:45] So, in terms of what people can see with King County Sheriffs and their communities throughout the county, those cities that have arrangements and agreements and contracts with the King County Sheriffs --

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:25:59] Contracts, yeah.

Crystal Fincher: [00:25:59] -- they hopefully, in your administration, you're saying, can expect to see less of the stops you just described. Are there other differences that you think they will be able to see after you take office?

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:26:14] Yeah. You know what's funny, is I used to be in the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight. After a young man named Tommy Le was shot in Burien, I really wanted to get more involved to understand the systemic issues that caused that dynamic to happen. Instead of having a knee jerk reaction, met with his family, helped organize a forum, actually met with the Sheriff's office as well. My background is actually in strategy and analytics. So, I downloaded 10 years of data for law enforcement in King County, specifically for every single contract city as well, just to understand the trends of what was happening.

So, this is a particular point of interest for me in terms of how they should be handled. Each contract is different depending on the jurisdictions that they're in, and that's how they actually fund the King County Sheriff's Office, is through these contracts. I would offer a variety of services that are different. So, what I will point out is the City of Sammamish, I'm not sure if they still do it or not, but part of their contracts, they have apparently a lot of snowbirds where law enforcement will come and just check in on their homes to make sure it's fine.

So, it is possible to have other functions for these officers when they're out on patrol, and making sure that people are safe in a different way, but it would look a lot different. I think it would look a lot different than what we're currently doing now. It's going to be based more on programs that we know already work. So, a lot of the incidences where it's behavioral and mental health, you can have more of a Medic One type response, where you would send a professional, a mental health or behavioral health professional people to get some help. What's interesting is that Washington State, we used to be 50 out of 50 when it came to funding for behavioral and mental health.

Over the past few years, based on the investments that we made, we're now 26 out of 50. Again, a lot of those things have to be implemented at the county level. So, layering on more services, removing things that aren't necessarily required for somebody that has a weapon, being able to have a variety of services that are layered on top of the basic needs programs that we have right now, it would be a lot different in that we can rethink the paradigm of what policing looks like in King County. Like I said, it's bigger than 14 states. It's the 12th largest county in the entire nation. I think we can be a beacon in terms of what the future policing could look like in Washington State and across the country as well.

Crystal Fincher: [00:28:23] Absolutely. Looking at how we take care of our people and their health, air pollution is certainly a big issue that literally affects life expectancy, child health, hospitalizations, and disabilities. Looking at water pollution, certainly, addressing those issues, in addition to greenhouse gas emissions and the increasingly dire and impending consequences of not taking more action sooner, what will you do as King County Executive to address those issues?

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:29:00] Yeah. I think climate change should be the lens in which we look at the issues facing our county as well. What's interesting is, so I grew up in Burien as well. So, born in White Center, grew up in Burien, it's nearby the airport. Sorry, I have a lot of stories, but everything you say triggers a memory when I was a kid. I had asthma growing up because I was next to the highway and I had no idea that that was a thing. That if you were lower income you oftentimes live in areas that were more polluted. I just didn't know. So, we grew up next to the highway. I had asthma.

I didn't realize a lot of other kids had asthma as well, but one of the most visceral memories that I had growing up before my father was in his car accident was that he would take us down to the Duwamish and he would go fishing or go crabbing. I remember one day, one of the strangers was walking by and said, "Hey, you don't want to eat that stuff because the water is polluted." He's a fishermen from Vietnam, so that's how you get sustenance. So, being told that the water is so poisoned you can't eat the food from it, was a very memorable moment for me in the sense of like, "Oh, wow, this stuff is impacting us right now."

I was like six at that time. So, I think it impacts our daily lives. We have to look at it from a lens of how does our behavior as human beings impact climate change. So, before we were talking about the need for more affordable housing, I think there was a stat that said we needed 196,000 more affordable housing units to actually alleviate the issues that we're having right now. Again, you can do a few different things. So, we've passed legislation as it relates to car emissions and building standards. Again, those have to be implemented at the county level. Our planning should be mindful of climate change as well.

So, the county is in charge of the Growth Management Act. For those who don't know, that's how you plan for development and growth in Washington State. It's a big, big deal. You should be more focused in terms of how climate change can impact that, which oftentimes means you need to build more densely in urban areas and then leave rural areas untouched. Because when you talk about mitigating the impacts of climate change, it's also carbon sequestration. So, being able to use that land to sequester carbon. Then, also when you talk about affordable housing, you can use what's called cross-laminated timber and you have to build as it relates to transit in those spaces as well.

One of the things that I've always said is that we should have Transit For All. I say it because it's more equitable, but also because it lowers vehicles' miles traveled. So, it makes us lower our greenhouse gas emissions. I've done the math. People think that it's a wild idea. Fares make up 15% of the Metro revenue, 15%, you're talking about $180 million. So, the fact that we spend 73% of the General Fund on our legal system and nobody says anything, but if I wanted to just spend 10% of that budget on fares, people go wild. It's like, we can just reinvest our money more strategically.

Also, we have to have a Transit Benefit District anyways to pay for a lot of the plans that we have in place for King County Metro Connect. So, there are ways to actually pay for this in a progressive way. It just requires a new level of thinking. So, when it comes to climate change, it has to be through the lens by which we operate. I'm glad that we bought a few buses. I'm glad that we're investing a little bit more in electrification. That's not going to be enough. We have to change behaviors. That includes being able to build transit in areas that have historically been left out.

So, where I grew up, it took me an hour and a half to get downtown on a bus. I think they're now putting in the H Line, which is great because it helped pay for some of that as well, in partnership with the county. That is going to make it a little bit faster, 30 years after I left. So, it's an interesting dynamic where you're just now seeing communities having investments being made in it even though it's been a problem for generations. But that's really what it's going to take, is investing in communities impacted by it, having it be done strategically, so that way our transit and our housing is all being done at the same time.

It also allows for economic mobility as well, so people can have access to their jobs. So, I'm rambling, but this is an area that I'm very, very passionate about. I serve on the Transportation Committee for this reason and I serve on the Environment, Energy and Technology Committee for this reason as well.

Crystal Fincher: [00:33:02] And to be clear, when you say you support Transit For All, and especially talking about how it's very achievable to recover the amount of money that is received from the fare box, you're talking about free transit for all and not charging for riding whatever mode of Metro Transit it would be?

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:33:20] Yeah, exactly. Also, to protect the drivers themselves, to be honest. I think a lot of interactions where drivers have altercations is because of that system. Also by the way, law enforcement, fare enforcement is potentially problematic as well, or it is problematic. You just have to pass legislation to allow for alternative means of collecting fares. So, it's one of those things where it's good, that should exist in our society. What's funny, I know what the person, the incumbent is going to say, is that, "Well, 60% of the fare revenue comes from corporations paying for it for their employees."

Absolutely right. What's interesting is you can do what's called a Transit Benefit District. Right now, it's usually an MVET, or a sales tax, or a property tax, very regressive. I would lobby the legislature to have something a bit more progressive. What's interesting is that when Joe Biden put out his infrastructure plan and said that we would need to have progressive business taxes in order to pay for it, one of the first people to speak out in favor was actually Jeff Bezos. So, there is appetite because they understand that their workforce needs to have this infrastructure to be successful as well.

So, I think that we could potentially get new authority from the legislature to have a Transit Benefit District paid for by larger corporations based off of whatever metric they want to use, office spaces they've leased or size, or whatever they want to use, to help mitigate the cost of the fares. But also we need to pay for a Transit Benefit District anyways for the infrastructure for part of the Metro Connect plan. That's another thing too, is that we need to do a better job connecting state infrastructure, city infrastructure, and county infrastructure.

The fact that we have to have multiple ways of paying for things makes it a little bit difficult. So, implementing that by having Transit For All just makes it easier, I think, as a whole.

Crystal Fincher: [00:35:05] I think so. I agree with that, actually. So, as we get ready to close, certainly looking at someone who's been an incumbent for a long time with Dow Constantine and who has almost always had a litany of endorsements from labor unions, progressive organizations, other elected officials. This year is no different, frankly. His endorsement page is lengthy. When you look at that and you're making the case to the people, why in the face of all that, and a lot of people supporting Dow Constantine, a lot of organizations supporting Dow Constantine, why should they choose you? Why do you have a path to win and the ability to really deliver on the change you're talking about?

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:35:53] Yeah, what's interesting is that most of those endorsements came before anybody knew that I was even running for office. In fact, I think all but a handful came before I even jumped in the race. For folks who are paying attention, the fact that we are in the driver's seat when it comes to most of these endorsements now, whether it's legislative districts, whether it's in the KC Dems and otherwise, we're getting about 60% to 40% of the majority of these meetings. We have the sole endorsements from the 11th, 39th [Legislative District Democrats]. We have duals in the 37th, 36th. Most other ones, we're just at that threshold to get a sole endorsement, which is 66%.

We're getting 62%, 64%, so one or two people. So, the fact that the incumbent has been there for 12 years and the fact that he's already spent $750,000, and we're the ones that are driving the conversation in terms of the endorsement after only being in for about two to three weeks, I think in itself is telling in terms of where the tides are turning. We have the sole endorsements from the King County Young Democrats. We have the endorsements from the ATU [Amalgamated Transit Union]. There's a couple of other ones that are pending as well, that we'll make public pretty soon. Then, we have significant amount of support from legislators and other elected officials across the state.

So, I'm not too worried about the endorsement game just because, look at what came in before I jumped in, look what came in afterwards. It's pretty telling by itself. But what people really want more so than that is to see that their lives are getting better. I've had conversations with thousands of people at this point, not just as a senator but also on the campaign trail. What really people want right now is change. They know that we need to act urgently when it comes to tackling homelessness. They know that we need to act urgently when it comes to tackling climate change. They know that we need to act urgently when it comes to tackling racial inequities in our society.

Especially when it comes to say, for instance, gun violence and otherwise as well. So, I think the pitch that I'll make to people, and it seems to be resonating, is that, "Look, in this moment in time, as we're moving out of this pandemic, we're trying to now address systemic issues that have been in place for generations, for generations, that have not been able to be moved in terms of the current leadership that we have in place right now. It's simply time for change." I think we'll have that message resonate just based off of what we're already seeing with some of these, not just endorsements, but community conversations as well.

I think we'll have a strong shot winning South King County. I think we'll have a strong shot winning Seattle. I think we'll have a strong shot in East King County as well. So, I think people are hungry for change and I think we represent what that change could look like.

Crystal Fincher: [00:38:29] Well, certainly we'll be keeping an eye on this race. It's one of the biggest ones happening in the State this year.

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:38:35] Yeah.

Crystal Fincher: [00:38:36] I look forward to talking to you again. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Senator Joe Nguyen: [00:38:40] Thank you. I appreciate the time.

Crystal Fincher: [00:38:45] Thank you for listening to Hacks and Wonks. Our chief audio engineer at KVRU is Maurice Jones, Jr. The producer of Hacks and Wonks is Lisl Stadler. You can find me on Twitter @Finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I, and now you can follow Hacks and Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Just type in Hacks and Wonks into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our mid-week show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full text transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced during the show at and in the podcast episode notes. Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you next time.