For those of us who showed up for the December’s Speaker Series to hear stories of corruption and scandals in the Washington State legislature, it was a very disappointing afternoon. With all the news of scandals originating in our nation’s capital, I was prepared to hear some juicy gossip from our guest speakers, State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos (37th District) and State Senator Bob Hasegawa (11th District). As it turned out, we heard another side of politics that seldom gets heard in these days when accusations of corruption and mud-slinging campaigns are still fresh in people’s minds from the most recent election.
Both Sharon and Bob were motivated to enter the world of politics from sharing a strong desire to be community involved and a social conscience to do the right thing. Sharon was raised by a minister father and a school teacher mother. At an early age, Sharon qualified to participate in the Central Area Motivation Program and was tutored by civil rights activist and future King County Councilman Larry Gossett. After completing her assignment of reading Malcom X’s autobiography, she was inspired to enter the world of politics and participated on Mike Lowry’s campaign. Sharon became the second youngest woman in the state legislature when elected back in 1998. She admits to disliking the politics but enjoys promoting good policies.
Bob entered the world of politics after a career as a United Parcel Service driver and heading the Teamsters Union Local 174. Bob was part of the reform movement that cleaned up the Teamsters’ image and was successful in negotiating new contracts for Boeing and UPS truck drivers. With UPS’ new contract, their drivers had some of the top wages in the country and full-time employees were protected from being replaced by part time drivers. But the government filed a lawsuit against the Teamsters and Bob found himself without a job and blackballed from finding new employment. A former labor union leader convinced Bob to run for an opening in the state House of Representatives back in 2004, and the rest is history.
When asked how much funds are required to run a successful campaign, both Sharon and Bob raise around $100K each. As seasoned veterans, neither will actually spend that much, but due to ethic complaints, both have to hire attorneys. Both have admitted to having to campaign going door to door. Although Sharon admitted not enjoying the practice for fear of not knowing how to answer a homeowner’s question, Bob said he enjoyed the process even after being chased off a property by an angry gun owner. That was probably Bob’s way of telling us that as a politician, you can’t expect to please everyone all the time.
Both Sharon and Bob admitted to dreading prolonged sessions in the House and Senate, but the process is not as depressing if they get the result they desire. Fortunately, both Sharon and Bob have no other commitments, but the prolonged sessions can be difficult for single mothers and those who have other jobs. Since Washington State legislators only make around $42K a year, it seems hard to imagine why anyone would want to run for office at the state level. Sharon and Bob are living proof that you have to be passionate about wanting to help others to justify entering the world of politics. Sharon admitted to having a strong sense of obligation to represent the Nikkei community and wanting to help others to ensure what happened to first- and second-generation Japanese Americans doesn’t repeat itself. The Nikkei community in the 11th and 37th legislative districts couldn’t be luckier to have such committed and selfless individuals representing them.