Hasegawa said she was the youngest woman of color ever to serve as a cabinet member at the state.
Hasegawa said she was the youngest woman of color ever to serve as a state-level cabinet member in Washington. Courtesy of the Campaign

On Monday Toshiko Hasegawa, executive director of Washington's Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, announced her campaign for Port of Seattle Commission Position 4, a seat currently held by former port commission president and magician Peter Steinbrueck.

Hasegawa said her deep roots in Beacon Hill and her work as commission director prepared her for the role, where she plans to focus on a just recovery from the pandemic and a "blue new deal."

As a fourth-generation Japanese-American from Beacon Hill, Hasegawa said she's fortunate enough to be raising a daughter in the same neighborhood where her grandfather raised her dad. (Her dad happens to be state Sen. Bob Hasegawa.)

Since Gov. Jay Inslee appointed her as director of the state's Asian Pacific American Affairs in 2018, she's advised the Governor and members of the Legislature on how the state might best serve that community in general. COVID-19 complicated that job. During the pandemic, which led to an early and sustained increase in discriminatory behavior and hate crimes against Asians, Hasegawa said she's been "working collaboratively with business owners, community-based orgs, and community members to connect them with resources so they can weather the storm."

In a phone interview, Hasegawa argued that the skills she honed in that job would serve her well as a port commissioner charting a path toward economic recovery. "We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We have models that can make the port better," she said. She'd want to lead, for instance, collaborative efforts to connect women- and minority-owned small businesses operating out of the ports with existing support services the state already offers but has a hard time advertising, and also adapt the state's language access plan for the port's printed materials and website.

Last summer the port promised to dump $10 million into its South King County Fund, a 2018 program aimed at addressing noise and air pollution and increasing economic opportunity in the area. This year the commission issued $1 million in grants to ten nonprofits who serve communities hit hardest by COVID-19. Hasegawa said the port "came through" with that fund, but added that "it's going to take a hell of a lot more than $10 million to answer the need."

"We crave more, we deserve better," she continued. "And for tribes, for communities of color, for airport cities who want to be part of the solution—it's not too much to demand a seat at the table."

Hasegawa said she envisions "a blue new deal" for the port, a policy regime that embraces environmental sustainability while promoting job growth. She mentioned subsidizing boaters who transition to clean fuels, building high-speed rail, and taking advantage of federal subsidies to build windmills. "Some of that is pie-in-the sky," she admitted, "but that's exciting to me, and that's what I mean by bringing industries together to solve our sustainability goals."

Speaking of sustainability goals, climate activists have demanded the port cancel plans to develop Terminal 46 into another cruise ship berth, arguing that the "detrimental" environmental effects of opening up another terminal to cruise ships would "greatly outweigh the economic benefits" of more tourism. Last summer the port paused the project due to COVID-19. When asked if she wanted to pause that development forever, Hasegawa said, "I’m open to having a conversation about anything that’s going to stabilize our economy."

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Following the police killing of George Floyd, port executive director Steve Metruck banned chokeholds for port police, and the port commission launched a task force on port policing to "ensure our Police Department continues to uphold the Port’s values of equity, diversity, and inclusion and improve in areas where we can." Haswegawa more or less echoed that language, saying her plan for port police reform involved "buffing up" training.

"The port is uniquely positioned to be a model on how we can bring together industry, business, the public, and workers on how we’re going to rebuild our economy to better than it was. It's a tremendously tall challenge, but I'm up for it," Hasegawa said.

So far, the people who also think she's up for it include Washington state Senator Joe Nguyen and Washington state Reps David Hackney and Sharon Tomiko Santos. King County Councilmembers Girmay Zahilay, Rod Dembowski, and Jeanne Kohl-Welles also tip their hats in Hasegawa's favor, as does Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss.