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caption: State Senator Joe Nguyen is running to unseat King County Executive Dow Constantine.
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State Senator Joe Nguyen is running to unseat King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Credit: Nguyen campaign

A generational battle for King County Executive

Dow Constantine was, at one time, a grunge-loving college DJ for the alternative UW radio station KCMU (now KEXP). And when he first ran for King County Executive back in 2009, he was endorsed by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.

Now, he’s being challenged for his seat by a millennial — State Senator Joe Nguyen, who says his favorite music is the “Hamilton mix-tape” and not the original soundtrack.

Nguyen actually paged for Constantine in the Washington State House when he was 14 years old, and later volunteered on his first campaign.

“This is not against Dow, per se," he said.

"This is just what the future of our county needs in a moment like this, when we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make transformational change,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen's personal story informs his approach to politics. His parents were refugees from Vietnam, and he grew up in White Center where his family lived in public housing.

“For a time when my father was quadriplegic after a car accident, you know, we struggled, we truly, truly struggled,” he said.

On the issues, Nguyen’s trying to carve out space to Constantine’s left on issues with appeal to a younger generation of voters.

He says he won’t take corporate PAC money, for example. And he would make mass transit free, both for greater equity and to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

He also accuses Constantine of being too slow to agree to phase out the county’s youth jail.

For his part, Constantine said he’s lowered the number of youth in detention “through prevention, and through alternatives to detention,” from nearly 90 per day when he took office to around 15 today.

He also said he helped win voter support to make the Sheriff an appointed office under civilian control, and overall says he's proud of his progressive record on all of the issues Nguyen's running on.

caption: King County Executive Dow Constantine is running for a 4th term
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King County Executive Dow Constantine is running for a 4th term
Credit: Dow Constantine campaign


Asked what he’s most proud of in recent years, Constantine pointed to the county’s approach to managing the pandemic.

“The New York Times said that if the rest of the country did what King County did some 300,000 Americans would be alive today,” Constantine said.

Clarification: Dow Constantine did not actively campaign with the Charter for Justice Campaign to make the King County Sheriff an appointed position.