By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
We’ve known him as Ambassador Gary Locke. We’ve known him as the governor of Washington state. Now, Locke has quietly been pursuing his latest role as private citizen.
Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address asking what citizens could do for their country, Locke’s altruistic aspirations began at an early age. Locke went to college during the tumultuous time of the Vietnam War protests. There, he fostered a belief that he could make a change in his country through law, rather than violence. He started working with community service organizations, promoting social services, and meeting with government officials on local initiatives. Through his experience and with the support of his community, Locke was eventually encouraged to run for office.
Locke went on to become the first Asian American governor in the continental United States, the first Chinese American Secretary of Commerce, and the first Chinese American to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to China. However, for all his successes and glass ceilings broken, Locke recognized that he would not have made it without the accomplishments of those who came before him. Locke cited Wing Luke and Dolores Sibonga — iconic, local Asian Americans who held office at the city and state levels and broke glass ceilings of their own — for helping make his runs for office easier in an area where Asian Americans make up less than 5 percent of the population. Locke hopes to leave behind the same legacy for aspiring Asian American politicians.
“When I became King County executive, and later governor, it was important to do as good a job as possible,” said Locke. “If I could do a good job, I could inspire other Asian Americans to run for office. And if I could be an effective governor of the state of Washington, I could motivate others — other Asian Americans — to run and make it easier for them to win.”
And on Dec. 2, the Northwest Asian Weekly will honor Locke with a Life Achievement Award in its annual Top Contributors awards dinner. Held at the House of Hong Restaurant in Chinatown, the Top Contributors event recognizes individuals who’ve gone above and beyond in community-building and social justice work for the local Asian community.
On living in the present
Since stepping down from his role as the U.S. Ambassador to China in 2014, Locke’s attention has turned to his consulting business, which focuses on cross-border trade and investment. He is also an adviser and consultant at international law firm David Wright Tremaine LLP, in their China and governmental-relations practice groups.
Additionally, Locke has a demanding speaking schedule, and often travels to give speeches on U.S. and China relations to universities, companies, and financial conferences. But most importantly, said Locke, he’s used this time off from public service to relax, recharge, and enjoy his return home to the Pacific Northwest, while spending quality time with family and friends.
In his last interview with Northwest Asian Weekly, Locke said he was supporting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Despite the election’s results, Locke said this disappointment doesn’t mean that supporters should sit back, but rather, should continue to fight for policies at the local level that Secretary Clinton would’ve enacted nationally.
“Just because [President-elect Donald] Trump won doesn’t mean we in Washington state shouldn’t try to address the concerns of everyday working-class families,” Locke said. He hopes issues like making education more affordable, fighting green gas emissions and climate change, and finding ways to increase the availability of affordable housing, will be key concerns locally.
With this in mind, Locke is currently working with civic groups on an initiative to address the disconnect between local residents looking for jobs and Seattle-area companies that cannot find nearby talent and are recruiting employees out-of-state.
“I’m interested in helping with the efforts of providing more intensive job training — to our own citizens, our community seeking work — and matching them up with all these great companies in-state that have so many unfulfilled positions.”
Locke is also working closely with local organizations to redevelop underutilized lands for senior housing and commercial development. Although he cannot divulge where, Locke hopes the project will address several growth objectives, such as ushering in new businesses, creating jobs, and bringing affordable housing to the urban area.
Although he has no current plans to return to public service, these projects speak to what Locke misses most about holding office: “I miss management. I love public policy. I very much enjoy revitalizing organizations and making them more effective. I’m just a political junkie.”
Gary Locke will be honored on Dec. 2 at the Northwest Asian Weekly’s annual Top Contributors Awards Dinner, held at the House of Hong Restaurant in Chinatown.
Vivian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.