By Ninette Cheng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Nov. 6 marked a special day for Bob Hasegawa: the lifelong labor rights champion was elected to his first term in Washington State Senate.
But Hasegawa is hardly new to politics. He has served six years as State Representative of Washington’s 11th District, representing Tukwila, the southern part of Renton, and Beacon Hill in Seattle. As senator, he will be replacing retiring senator, Margarita Prentice, and will be one of three minorities in the state senate.
A lifelong social activist, Hasegawa identifies education, civil rights, environmentalism, trade unions, and trade amongst the issues that concern him most. In a way, his start began before he was even born.
“My family, parents, and grandparents [were] interned during World War II and stripped of civil rights,” Hasegawa said. “Having grown up after World War II, I really developed this appreciation of the fragility of civil rights and this need to protect them. That sort of framed my view of the world in protecting the constitution and our freedoms that we sometimes take for granted.”
Hasegawa’s activism work began at the age of 21 when he worked at UPS and became a member of the Teamsters Union. He was elected the head of the Teamsters Local 174 for nine years before becoming the head of the national pro-democracy reform movement. In 2001, he ran for internal vice president.
Cindy Domingo, the chief of staff for King County Council Member Larry Gossett, has known Hasegawa for 15 years, starting with his work with Teamsters.
“[Hasegawa] rose to the level of the only person of color on the international executive board,” Domingo said. “He was not only tenacious, but he would go 150 percent of the way to ensure that the interests of workers are represented at the very top. When he decided to go into politics, he wanted to do the same thing.”
Hasegawa first ran for the State House of Representatives in 2005 and has stayed involved in the issues that concerned him as a union leader since.
“We should have equal opportunity to everything society has to offer, including education, business opportunities, clean air, environment, and transportation,” Hasegawa said. “I’ve been working to try and rebuild a collective vision. Once we all share that vision of what a civilized society should be, it should be much easier to start working towards that.”
Hasegawa is also on the board of Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO (APALA), where he works to build the power of Asian Pacific Islanders in the labor union.
“To build power, you build a lot of alliances with similar workers, [such as the] Latino, immigrant, and LGBT groups,” he said. “The labor movement doesn’t operate in a vacuum.
It operates in the real world. We get involved with a lot of real world issues like supporting environmentalism and supporting fair trade movements.”
In addition to social justice, Hasegawa is involved in numerous financial issues. A top priority is establishing a state-owned bank (House Bill 2434).
“The concept is, right now, when we collect all of our tax revenue, it goes to the state bank account at Bank of America,” Hasegawa explained. “[With a state bank,] we deposit the profit dollars in our own bank and make profit for our tax payers. We control the money and can use it to invest in our own community, not Wall Street, so we can meet a lot of our infrastructure needs and can do a ton of good work for our state.”
Hasegawa’s focus right now is on his upcoming first term as a state senator.
“Right now, the state is lacking vision in what we want our state to be,” he said. “ I think we have that vision, but people have lost [it].”
Domingo is confident of the years of value Hasegawa has brought to workers and minorities.
“He’s been consistent all these years in the values that he brings to the table, she said. “I’ve been proud of my association with Bob. [He is an] ally in the struggle for justice. I’m glad he represents us in the state legislature” (end)
Ninette Cheng can be reached at email@example.com.