Liu to run for state senate?

Though he has not formally announced his intention to run for the 37th district seat in the Washington State Senate, Eric Liu shares a few of his thoughts on what he thinks local government should do.

Eric Liu is a writer, mentor, and former Clinton speech writer. So what’s to come next for this educator? (Photo by Alan Alabastro)

By Vivian Luu
Northwest Asian Weekly

It’s no secret that Eric Liu was former President Bill Clinton’s speech writer and political adviser, but word on the street is that he might run for the 37th district seat in the Washington State Senate.

The 37th district stretches from Madison Valley to Rainier Valley, inching into Renton. Known as Washington’s “rainbow district,” its population is about a third Black, a third Asian, and a third white. In addition to job security, health care, and education, the district’s legislators have a long history of promoting culture and diversity policy.

“We can use a new kind of energy,” Liu said. “My way of moving in the community is trying to bring different kinds of people together around common goals. We can use more of that in our political leaders. I can help bring that.”

Liu brings to the table experience as deputy domestic adviser in the Clinton administration and with that, policy expertise in culture and entrepreneurship.

Education is Liu’s primary focus, and justifiably so. The 37th district consists of many families that can’t provide children with help on their homework because little English is spoken at home. It is where unemployment is taking a toll on families — like everywhere else — but support is limited for children as parents go through the daily grind.

“I spend a great deal of my energy on education and developing young people, creating opportunity for youth, and I’ve come to see that in these areas, I work so hard as a citizen, the legislature is the arena where you can make a big and lasting impact for a lot of people,” Liu said.

“The 37th district depends so much on good public schools, on opportunities to get good jobs. I feel we need an energetic champion for these issues in the state senate.”

Liu’s daughter is currently attending a public school. His partner, Jena Cane, is putting her daughter through college and has been involved in education and mentoring.

Liu is involved in the Washington State Board of Education, serves on the Seattle Public Library board, and is one of the honorary co-chairs of Schools First, an organization promoting an upcoming Seattle school levy. For college and graduate school, he attended Harvard and Yale. He is currently a lecturer at the University of Washington.

There is also an entrepreneurial side to Liu. He was an executive of RealNetworks, a Seattle-based Internet media delivery software company well-known for its development of RealPlayer and RealAudio.

Liu sees business potential in the 37th district and its residents. What’s missing is a link between ideas and the opportunity to make them real.

Liu wants to be the one to connect the dots.

“There is also much entrepreneurial energy in the community,” he said. “Government can be doing more to organize and catalyze that energy.

There are so many fundamental challenges that people are facing right now — job training, knowing what opportunities are  available — in many communities, people can be cut off from the opportunities.”

Liu currently runs the Guiding Lights Network, which hosts an annual conference on mentoring and community engagement. Compassion and involvement is a key component of policy-making, he said, citing U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as an example.

“We think of Locke as an international figure, but he started as someone who cared about people in a simple way, who focused their desire for higher education and better opportunity,” Liu said. “I think we need more voices from our communities to say, ‘I want to be involved.’ ”

Liu told PubliCola, a local online news source, that there’s a generational shift happening in the 37th district, and “it’s time for some new blood.”

No hard feelings, however, against incumbent Adam Kline, who is seeking re-election.

“I think Adam has served with integrity for a long time. I told him that, should I enter this race, it would not be about tearing down Adam Kline. This is about issues I’m passionate about and ways I believe I can serve and contribute right now.”

Kline represents a minority of his own, being the only Jewish senator in the state. He is a lawyer and his focus is on K-12 education and then on legal policy, notably immigration and business opportunities.

Liu’s addition to the election is an opportunity to come before voters and have a robust political conversation. “I welcome him to the race,” Kline said of Liu. “This is a conversation the district needs to hear.”

This is Kline’s 14th year as a senator. Kline says he’s done his time and the seniority he holds has given him the leverage he seeks to “get things done” in the district.

Many think leverage builds trust that lawmakers recognize in each other to move policy forward in Olympia.

Margarita Prentice, chair of the Ways & Means committee, the primary fiscal committee for the Washington State Senate, said bringing in someone new means starting over, and in Olympia, freshmen come and go. “You get someone inexperienced who has no reputation around here … new blood doesn’t do it, or fresh eyes or fresh faces,” said Prentice.

There needs to be a reason for voters to want to get rid of their representative who’s served them for years. She sees no such thing in Kline.

“Mentally, I’m at the top of my game,” Kline said. “Quite frankly, there will always be a time for new blood — and there will be in 2014, 2018, 2022, and 2026. I don’t intend to go away any time soon.”

The other two elected officials representing the 37th district in the Washington state legislature are Rep. Eric Pettigrew and Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos. Pettigrew stated he’d like to wait on providing comments on the rumors of Liu running for state senate. Santos was unable to comment before press time. ♦

Stacy Nguyen contributed to this report.

Vivian Luu can be reached at

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