By Irfan Shariff
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Blaine Tamaki is a Triple Dawg. He received a bachelor’s degree in economics, earned a Juris Doctor, and most recently was appointed to the Board of Regents at the University of Washington (UW). He’s more than just a former UW Husky and member of the university’s governing board —he’s the father of a current student and an alum.
Tamaki, a third-generation Japanese American, has practiced law in Yakima for 35 years.
He has led record cases “fighting for the rights of the powerless. My clients are people, not corporations.”
Tamaki is one of two regents who are based outside of Western Washington. And, he is currently the only Asian American. Past API UW Regents include Fred Kiga, Scott Oki, and the late Ark Chin.
“API students were overdue for a voice on the Board of Regents. I am flattered and honored to be that voice,” said Tamaki. According to Tamaki, 25 percent of the student population is part of the API community.
“Having a regent who is Asian will mean we have someone at the table at the state’s largest public university,” said Francisco “Frank” Irigon, who was a member of the Asian Student Coalition at UW in the 1970s.
“With his awareness, we’ll have an advocate for our issues and concerns,” said Irigon. “He will represent the best interests of the campus community from students, staff, and faculty to the administration. He’ll also be the [API] community’s link to what’s happening on campus.”
Tamaki is already engaging with API community leaders like Irigon to discuss “a broad range of issues, such as sexual harassment of API female students and expanding curriculum for API students,” he said.
Tamaki Law, which he started in 1994, operates three offices across Washington and handles cases nationwide. He has settled over 30 cases for over one million each, including a 2011 sexual abuse case against the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Jesuit order that made national headlines. His clients are “Native Americans, Latinos, the injured, disabled, and abused.”
“My father was interned under Executive Order 9066 despite being an American citizen,” he said. “I learned early in life that race matters and, as a result, became an idealist to battle my disillusion with the real America.”
“I have learned to cope with my minority viewpoint by channeling my energies and passion into achieving justice one case at a time,” said Tamaki.
“Yakima is very politically conservative,” he said. “I stay because it is my home. My friends, family, and roots are in Yakima.”
Tamaki has raised three children in Yakima with his wife, who was born and raised in the Philippines.
“API students are special treasures. Their parents know that the best chance for their children to truly achieve the American Dream is through education,” he said. “And that’s why as children of API parents, we value higher education and emphasize our own children to reach for the stars.”
On Oct. 5, Gov. Jay Inslee appointed Tamaki as a UW Regent. Tamaki will be completing the term vacated by Pat Shanahan, who was recently confirmed as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense.
“Regent Tamaki brings many important viewpoints to the board” that include his perspective as an Eastern Washington resident, as a UW parent, and his “critical role as a plaintiffs attorney working on behalf of marginalized communities,” said Jaron Goddard, a second-year law student, who was appointed as the student regent for the current academic year.
Like Tamaki, Goddard is “dedicated to public service and hopes to continue to serve the people of Washington state in my capacity as an attorney,” she said.
In addition to being the liaison to the API community, Tamaki hopes to focus on improving board support for UW Medicine, improving state funding which has suffered recent declines, and “continuing a safe, supportive environment for high academic achievement for all UW students at all UW campuses,” he said.
According to its website, the UW Board of Regents is the “governing body whose broad responsibilities are to supervise, coordinate, manage, and regulate the university, as provided by state statute.”
The board consists of 10 members, of which one is a student. The student regent’s term lasts one academic year compared to the six-year term held by the public members.
“We oversee, at a high level, some particular decisions,” said Goddard. “A particular decision we make is the selection of the UW president.”
“More broadly, we oversee how some important decisions are made…we oversee the process,” she said.
Most state university systems and private universities have similar governing boards. For Washington state’s public colleges and universities, members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Tamaki’s appointment is awaiting confirmation and his term will last through September 2022, at which point he will be eligible for reappointment.
“I’m extremely excited,” said Tamaki. “I love the UW.”
“It is critical for the UW to embrace API students and treat them as the treasures they are,” he said. “I hope to be a part of that embrace.”
There will be a community meeting with Blaine Tamaki on Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m. at ACRS, Rm. 301.
Irfan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.