By Maya Leshikar
Northwest Asian Weekly
Mona Das was in the shower during a visit to her brother’s house when she had an epiphany. She got out of the shower, looked to her brother and his girlfriend, and told them, “I’m going to be a senator.”
That was 13 years ago.
Das, now the Washington State Senator for the 47th district, is serving her first term after defeating sitting Republican Sen. Joe Fain in 2018. She briefly ran for Congress in the 8th congressional district, but withdrew from the race due to a lack of funds and an oversaturated democratic primary. She turned her focus to the state Senate instead.
“We have those crazy dreams that come to us and sometimes we put those dreams on a shelf and sometimes we bring them down, dust them off, and take a look at them again,” Das said. “That was one of those dreams for me.”
At the time the revelation came to her, she had no idea how she was going to make it a reality, since she didn’t know any female Indian politicians and wasn’t sure if it was even possible.
She was born in Bihar, India and was an infant when her family brought her to the United States, with only six dollars. She describes her family as being “classically Indian,” where politics was never anything they discussed.
“Many folks don’t participate in politics in our country and I would love to see that change,” Das said. “As more and more Indians are running, people start to realize what power we have if we just use that power to uplift the voices of our culture.”
Das studied psychology at the University of Cincinnati, then went back to school at age 38 to get an MBA in sustainable business from Pinchot University (now Presidio Graduate School). She had an early career in the tech industry, but since 2004, she has owned and operated her mortgage business, MOXY Mortgage, which educates and empowers first-time homebuyers.
She shepherded her passion for sustainable business and housing into her Senate career. She is vice chair of the Housing Stability and Affordability Committee and serves on three other committees, including Transportation, Financial Institutions, Economic Development & Trade, and Environment, Energy & Technology.
But what she is likely most known for is sponsoring SB 5323, a bill that prohibits retailers in Washington from handing out single-use plastic bags. The goal of the bill is to reduce plastic waste and create an incentive for shoppers to bring reusable bags. It’s something that Das knows well from a year living in Europe.
She jokes that she always knew when someone was going to the grocery store because they had a wad of reusable bags under their arm. It is that type of behavior she wants to see carry over to Washington, like it has California and New York. The bill has passed the Senate, and she says she was proud to have four Republicans sign it.
“This plastic bag bill that I’m getting ready to pass has been in Olympia for five to eight years. The climate wasn’t ready, the people weren’t ready for a bill like this, so it’s pretty exciting we got it to where it is. I’m very honored to be the person to bring the bill to the finish line,” Das said.
Sen. Das hopes that by the end of the session, eight of the bills she worked on will pass. She says she found success when she began viewing the bill process like a mortgage process—that means championing a bill at every step to ensure it moves forward.
“The secret to my success is I don’t take no for an answer,” Das said. “I just ask a different question.”
This year’s legislative class is one of the most diverse in state history, and Das is often told how the freshman class has brought much-needed excitement to the Senate. The number of women of color doubled last year, and Das joined Manka Dhingra to become one of two Indian American women in the Senate.
Das considers it her mission to help inspire Washington’s next set of leaders inspire Washington’s next set of leaders so legislatures can look more like the people they serve.
“My overarching goal is to inspire other young people of color to run for office and get involved in their communities,” Das said. “That’s how passionately I feel about it, I want to be a part of training the next generation.”
Once, around the time Das had first moved to the Pacific Northwest, she was taking her dog out for a walk when she saw a campaign sign for Pramila Jayapal. She stood in front of that sign for almost five minutes as her dog pulled on its leash, and cried.
“I will never forget that moment because I knew by reading her name that she was an Indian woman,” Das recalled. “It was the first time I realized my crazy dream was possible, and that is what drives me every day, because I do believe that representation truly matters.”
Maya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.