By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Education is the key to success in life. This is a commonly shared belief among many in the Asian American and the American Indian communities.
For Sen. Claudia Kauffman (D-Kent), education has been a priority since she arrived in Olympia in 2006. She currently seeks re-election to a second four-year term as a state senator. A member of the Nez Perce tribe and the only American Indian in the Washington State Senate, Kauffman, 51, wants eligible voters in the 47th District to choose her over her opponent, Joe Fain, in next month’s general election.
“This [campaign] is important for all communities, especially communities of color. The 47th District is much more diverse than it was four years ago or eight years ago, and we need someone to represent our community in that sense,” she said. “So, it needs to be us down there.” The 47th District covers Kent, Black Diamond, Fairwood, Covington, and specific areas in Auburn.
Kauffman is the assistant majority whip, and she currently serves as vice chair for early learning on the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. She also serves on the Human Services & Corrections and Rules Committees.
She played a major role in creating an Early Learning Advisory Committee, one dedicated to designing a statewide plan to overhaul Washington’s early learning policies.
Kauffman also sponsored legislation to expand the American Indian endowed scholarship program. In April 2009, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed it into law.
Increasing the number of available jobs is another area of shared concern between both communities of color.
Kauffman gathered small business owners and those in the 47th District who worked closely with them last December.
“What do you need from us?” she asked everyone at the meeting.
After bringing their recommendations to the attention of her fellow senators, she was able to get bills passed “that increase the amount of training and technical assistance offered to small businesses, help streamline the paperwork within the state so that they’re not going all over the place, and provide some leniency on paperwork violations.”
“We worked on export assistance and provided training and assistance for exporting. And also, providing training on loans and loan assistance,” she added. “We even went so far as to say, ‘Well, let’s guarantee some of those loans.’ ”
Immigration reform, a third issue that bypasses the American Indian community, affects countless Asian Americans, immigrants, and refugees of Asian descent.
“The New American Initiative in Washington State. We did provide a tremendous amount of funding for [this] New American,” said Kauffman. “I think it was initially limited to folks who are on public assistance, to help them through the immigration process. Now, we want to expand it to all those who have the need.”
As the Muckleshoot tribe’s charity fund and federal relations liaison, Kauffman believes all communities of color should support charitable activities. She pointed out, “They said, ‘Claudia, you know the communities of color. Here is the Muckleshoot Charitable Giving Program. We want you to run it because we want to do more outreach to communities of color.’ ”
Another way that communities of color can help each other is by inclusion. Kauffman identified one example by saying, “We now have the Taste at Muckleshoot where we invite all the communities of color to come down and bring their foods, and then we have a taste.”
One anticipated result is a continued understanding between the Asian American and American Indian communities.
Ellen Abellera, former executive director of the state’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, worked with Kauffman to examine the achievement gap between white students and students of color.
She said Kauffman, who organized an annual dinner honoring veterans, has been a strong supporter of Filipino World War II veterans at the International Drop-In Center.
“She is very sensitive to the needs of our AAPI community,” Abellera, who supports Kauffman in her re-election, said. “That’s a very good sign.”
“I grew up on Beacon Hill, and I went to Cleveland High School,” Kauffman emphasized about herself. “So, I know and understand communities.”
“I’ve been very effective, and I’ve been very independent. I want to go back down [to Olympia].” ♦
For more information, visit www.claudiaforsenate.com.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.