By Zachariah Bryan
Northwest Asian Weekly
You might think you know Lt. Governor Brad Owen, but did you know that his two sons are Korean adoptees? Or that he was raised by a single mother?
Immediately without hesitation, all 10 people the Northwest Asian Weekly interviewed , excluding Owen himself, said he was “nice” and “easy to get along with.”
“I don’t think anyone has any negatives to say about him,” said Ron Chow, co-founder and president of Seattle Pacific Trading, who has gone on overseas missions with Owen to promote trade.
“Personally, I like him because he is very easy to work with,” said Nora Chan, an International District community activist. “He doesn’t act as if he is better than you. He loves all people … I can say he is the most loved politician in Chinatown.”
“He’s 100 percent a people person,” said Honorary Counsel General of Germany Petra Walker. “He knows how to behave in Asian and European cultures. You don’t get the feeling that he is being phony.”
Though not Asian himself, Owen has done much for the Asian community, which is why NW Asian Weekly Publisher Assunta Ng wants to honor him and his wife Linda with a special dinner on Sunday, March 31, at the House of Hong. A check in Owen’s honor will be presented to the ACRS food bank at the event.
“Lt. Gov. Owen is a wonderful friend of the Asian community,” Ng said. “I can’t think of another non-Asian elected official who has such strong ties with the Asian community as Brad Owen. When you talk to him, he has no airs even though he has just been elected for the 5th term. You can connect with him instantly.”
Ng continued, “The more I learn about him, the more I want to recognize him for what he has contributed to the Asian community and Washington state … His presence lifted up many Asian events, yet people take him for granted. That’s why the Asian Weekly is honoring him and his wife as the only honorees.”
Owen was flattered.
“It’s a great honor to be recognized by people in the state, and particularly in this community,” Owen said. “They have great leaders of their own and great accomplishments to be recognized by, and for them to come forward and say we want to recognize you, it’s really special.”
Ascending into politics
Owen was born on May 23, 1950, and grew up in a housing project in Tacoma, where his single mom raised a family by herself.
“She always worked. It was not one of those things you hear all the time, ‘Oh poor me, I’ve got all these kids, take care of me.’ She never did that,” Owen said. “I don’t know if it was intentional, but she certainly had the impact on my siblings and I to never believe you are owed … I think that’s where I get my basic work ethic, my philosophy.”
Owen started working early, finding a job at a burger joint when he was 15. He ran the potato peeler and cleaned floors, then went on to make burgers and fries. His next job, at a grocery store, was hardly more glamorous.
During his youth, he also picked up archery and played guitar in a band. But he was always interested in politics.
“I can’t tell you why I had an interest. I started running for office in the fifth grade. I won that one by the way. And then I went and lost some,” he said. “I was very opinionated. I had some issues with government in my early days.”
At age 21, Owen had his first big break with a small business when he took over a friend’s convenience store. He ran that for a few years until he was elected City Finance Commissioner for the City of Shelton, when he was 25, in 1975. At the end of that same year, he won a seat in the Washington House of Representatives. In 1983, he went onto the State Senate.
Then, in 1996, he was elected Lt. Governor, a position he has held ever since, winning five consecutive terms.
A friend of the Asian community
Ever since becoming Lt. Governor, Owen has shown nothing but grace and respect for the Asian community.
“A lot of politicians only come to see you every time there is an election year,” Ron Chow said. “But Owen comes year-round, it doesn’t matter … he’s there for you. He’s a true friend to the community, especially with all he’s done these years.”
Tony Au, small business owner, concurred. “It’s hard work for him, he’s all over the place,” Au said.
“Brad is a great friend who makes friends not based on dogma or political philosophy,” said Conrad Lee, Bellevue Mayor. “He goes to more Chinese community functions than anybody I know in politics, perhaps only next to me.”
In 2011, Owen made formal remarks at over 60 events, and in 2012, over 70. This is in addition to the countless public appearances he makes without planning to speak, though he is often asked to. Many sources said Owen could constantly be seen at many events around town for the Lunar New Year.
“He’s very, very open to all ethnicities and willing to help out anyone that has questions and needs support from him,” said Brad Owen’s son, Adam Owen, 37, who was adopted from Korea, along with his brother Mark, who is 40. “When he’s been asked to do stuff, he’s always more than willing to help out.”
Owen has offered his support, if even only for his presence or word of approval, when the community asks for it. For example, he recently supported leaders in the International District who want to install security cameras to ward off crime.
“If I can help them, I’m going to do that,” Owen said. “To me, it’s a no-brainer. It’s what we should be doing.”
Building relationships in the International community
In addition, Owen spends time overseas promoting trade with numerous Asian countries. Since taking office, he has led more than 20 overseas missions, many on the Pacific Rim, including Japan, China, India, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines. All of his trips are sponsored and do not cost taxpayers a single cent.
“Besides being the longest serving Lt. Governor in the United States, Brad Owen is also the only leader in the state of Washington after Congressman Jim McDermott who truly advocates for international trade and understands the intricate socio-political-economic aspect of it,” said Debadutta Dash, co-chair of WASITRAC.
Dash continued, “When we were in India, the Lieutenant Governor would be on Indian live TV every day, talking about opening trade between India and Washington state. He knows exactly what he’s talking about, he understands the cultural aspects that might sometimes inhibit trade. At the end of each day, he would go back to the hotel and do a report of what he worked on that day to the governor.”
One of Owen’s big accomplishments in trade promotion was creating a new market for Washington wine in Taiwan. Officials in Walla Walla credited Owen’s work with producing an initial sale of $1.5 million.
“My goal is to leave an impression that Washington is a place that has open arms to the world. We respect these other countries, and we want to be partners in the economy,” Owen said.
More than just promoting trade, Owen also promotes cross-cultural education opportunities. Qiuqiu, of the West China Development International Association, has worked with Owen on educational exchanges between Sichuan and Washington, particularly for aviation training programs for Clover Park Technical College (CPTC) and Green River Community College (GRCC), where students from the Civil Aviation Flight University of China (CAFUC) study. Qiuqiu, who visits Washington twice a year, had nothing but good things to say about Owen.
“Lt. Governor met our group of excellent students who study in CPTC and GRCC four times, where he shared culture and social information about Washington and his overseas experiences with our kids,” Qiuqiu said. “He encouraged students to go out and see more and learn more. They are now playing their parts positively in their work in China’s civil aviation.”
Perhaps one of the greater honors Owen has been able to play in international relations was in 2005, when he became one of the first American public officials to greet the Vietnam Prime Minister, Phan Van Kai, since the Vietnam War ended. Owen was there to shake Kai’s hand as he stepped off the airplane.
“They had me do that and it was quite an honor,” Owen said. “ … It’s just one of those things that goes with the job. You get these wonderful opportunities to meet with history makers and people of importance that make a difference in the world. So it was a proud moment.” (end)
Join the Northwest Asian Weekly in honoring Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and his wife Linda at the House of Hong on Sunday, March 31, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/349055, call 206-223-0623, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zachariah Bryan can be contacted at email@example.com.