Joe Nguyen at the August candidate forum at Ober Park (Paul Rowley/Staff Photo).

Joe Nguyen at the August candidate forum at Ober Park (Paul Rowley/Staff Photo).

Joe Nguyen, newly elected to state senate, looks ahead

Joe Nguyen, the son of Vietnamese immigrants and a lifelong resident of the 34th Legislative District, won the state senate seat of outgoing Sen. Sharon Nelson on election night last week in a decisive victory against his opponent, Shannon Braddock.

As of Monday, Nguyen had received 58 percent of the total vote compared to Braddock, with nearly 42 percent. Reversing course on Vashon after he failed to win over a majority of islanders during the August primaries, Nguyen pulled ahead of Braddock and received 398 more votes from Vashon in the general election.

Portage and Maury islanders favored Braddock by a small margin, and in the north end, she took the Dolphin precinct by a mere two votes. Residents of Colvos and Lisabeula came out strongest in favor of Nguyen, as well as in Chautauqua, Cove, Dilworth, Dockton and Shawnee, according to statistics from the King County Department of Elections.

Nearly 73 percent of registered voters in King County turned out to vote. Vashon currently has 8,961 registered voters; 5,595 cast ballots, making island turnout about 62 percent, according to the Department of Elections, though final results are not available before the election is certified on Nov. 27.

In a phone conversation, Nguyen said that his campaign staff was “cautiously optimistic” in the days before Nov. 7, unable to measure with certainty how much, if any, of a lead he had over Braddock since the primary.

“It’s almost surreal being where we are now than where we were back there,” he said, out of breath.

Nguyen said he has begun connecting with his new colleagues and is deciding among various committees he would like to join so he can “hit the ground running” his first day on the job. Of particular interest are energy, technology — given his background as a senior manager at Microsoft — and the environment. Nguyen said he would like to step up and continue work left unfinished by ballot initiatives that did not pass, citing Initiative 1631, a carbon emissions fee that would have been enacted on large emitters.

On the island, more than 70 percent of all residents voted in favor of 1631. Statewide, however, the ballot initiative did not resonate with Washingtonians, and it failed with only 43 percent of the vote. Almost 67 percent of islanders rejected Initiative 1634, opting to allow for local municipalities to impose additional taxes on soda, but it was approved, largely blocking any future tax on soft drinks in the state.

More than 83 percent of islanders overwhelmingly voted for Initiative 1639, which will implement restrictions on firearms, including raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21, expanding background checks and waiting periods, and mandating safe storage of firearms. It passed in the state with 59 percent of the total vote in favor. Initiative 940 also passed, which will introduce police reforms such as a good faith test to determine if the use of deadly force is warranted. It will also require de-escalation and mental health training for officers and will remove a legal barrier to convicting police officers found to have acted improperly on the job. Almost 79 percent of islanders voted for the initiative.

Transit, Nguyen said, is still one of his major priorities, and he said he would represent Vashon as he works to find solutions for issues related to ferries.

“In the short term [we need] to show we’re listening and making sure we’re enacting actual policies to alleviate the situation, but we have to have a long-term solution to this,” he said, mentioning staffing as important to the future of Washington State Ferries (WSF) because of the number of crew member retirements that could impact efficiency and boat sailings. “If we want to make a dent in how to alleviate that, you have to be on the transportation committee.”

Nguyen said he was looking forward to the proposals from The Evans School, which is conducting a study of the Fauntleroy dock as part of an evaluation of ticketing and loading procedures there.

Nguyen noted that unreliable ferry service exacerbates another problem facing Vashon: available urgent care.

“Ferries and a lack of care make things not just difficult, but dangerous as well,” he said. In a recent pamphlet his campaign sent to households on Vashon, Nguyen said that he would fight to fully fund a second medical center on the island, an idea he attributed to conversations with islanders, based on their biggest concerns he heard while meeting with them.

“To me, having an urgent care facility — making sure Neighborcare is fully funded and staffed, [and also] having urgent care — is what we had in mind specifically, because running across the water for urgent care is kind of tough,” he said.

No shortfall faced by Neighborcare, he said, was too great, especially when so much was on the line for Vashon should the health provider be forced to close its doors if it can’t make ends meet.

“We have to be making sure we plug that hole, but also making sure we provide for urgent care,” he said.

Nguyen said that Microsoft has a civic leave program that will allow him to hold his job while working in the state senate. He emphasized that he wants to remain accessible to constituents and provided his contact information; members of the public can reach him by phone at 206-251-4463 and email at

“This is the same number my family uses to contact me,” he said.

Frequently speaking about himself as playing a much smaller part on the stage of a bigger production, Nguyen added he is honored to have inspired a diverse range of constituents who he said now have political aspirations of their own.

“The biggest thing for me is we’ve met with so many folks who are now interested in running for office,” he said. “I’m pumped that we’re able to provide that path for folks as well.”

In a statement, Braddock congratulated Nguyen and said that the sacrifices of running her campaign were worth it because of the examples that can be set by women, for women. She wrote that her young daughter has expressed interest in running for office someday.

“While I may not have had many women role models in elected leadership when I was growing up, I’m beyond thankful my daughter will,” she said.

This version of the story corrects Nguyen’s e-mail address.

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