By Sue Misao
Northwest Asian Weekly
Against the wishes of the King County Democrats’ 33rd District, SeaTac Deputy Mayor Mia Su-Ling Gregerson has been appointed by the King County Council to the Washington State House of Representatives.
As one of three names up for appointment to fill Rep. Dave Upthegrove’s legislative seat after his election to the SeaTac City Council last month, Gregerson made it clear that if not selected, she would run for the position in 2014. On Dec. 3, SeaTac’s Committee Precinct Officers chose former Kent City Councilmember Elizabeth Albertson to fill the seat — a choice most considered likely to be confirmed by the King County Council.
But, surprise. On Monday, Dec. 16, the council appointed Gregerson instead.
“After consulting with Speaker Chopp, Executive Constantine, and Councilmember Julia Patterson, and listening carefully to the answers to questions posed to Councilmembers Albertson and Gregerson, I was pleased to vote with the majority of my fellow Democrats on the Council to appoint Deputy Mayor Gregerson to the State House,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski.
Going against the CPO’s recommendations doesn’t happen often, but it shouldn’t be an anomaly, says Council Member Kathy Lambert. “The law says they’re to send us their three choices, and we’re supposed to decide who we think is the best of those three,” she said. “What’s been happening is a game. People have been sending up people who don’t want it or aren’t physically able to take it,” said Lambert. “That’s not sending me three.”
Lambert said despite Albertson’s top ranking by the committee, Gregerson provided “superior answers to several questions, had better skills, and gave a lot more details on what she would do as a legislator.”
Gregerson thanked the 33rd District Democrats and the Council, and said she was honored to serve as State Representative. “I also appreciate going through the process with Elizabeth Albertson and Omaha Sternberg,” Gregerson wrote in a Dec. 17 e-mail. “Elizabeth brought her experience as a Kent City councilmember and a breadth of knowledge on a diverse set of issues to the process. I would love to work with her more closely and learn more from her as I go through my first session in the state legislature.”
Gregerson knows her district well. Her family goes back four generations in the SeaTac area. And while Gregerson, who is 41, was raised there, her life began far away.
“I was born in a remote village in Taiwan,” she said, “and placed on the doorstep of a police station.” After she was found there, she was taken to a nearby orphanage, and a few months later, she was adopted by her American parents. She knows very little else about her background.
Gregerson doesn’t dwell too much on her past, although now that her grown daughter has expressed curiosity about their roots, she is considering a visit to Taiwan.
“I’ve always wanted to go,” she said. “But I’m a very forward thinker. Everything is so bright in the future.” Gregerson’s future revolves around public service. “I want to use my life to give back,” she said.
Gregerson’s involvement in politics grew out of her years of volunteer work. It was just by chance that she heard of an opening on the City Council and decided to run for the seat in 2008. At the time, she said, she barely knew what council members did. She does now.
Gregerson used some of her time on the council working to protect funding for public safety and public works, as well as expanding parks and recreation programs. She represents south King County on several boards and committees.
“I understand how things work,” she said. “I’m not afraid to step in and help and foster change.” Her main focus, she said, is fiscal responsibility.
“It’s not sexy, but that’s the complicated truth,” said Gregerson. “The budget is what makes programs sustainable.”
Covering SeaTac, Des Moines, Normandy Park, and parts of Kent, Burien, and Renton, Gregerson has watched the district’s demographics change over the years. “When I was growing up, I was the definition of diversity,” she said. Now the district is 52 percent minority.
Her ongoing concerns include K-12 funding, transportation issues, and getting people signed up for health insurance. She is a member of King County Executive Dow Constantine’s Leadership Circle, created to foster enrollment of people who are newly eligible for health insurance.
Gregerson is focused on children’s mental health, and her background in the field of dentistry has got her thinking about the lack of dental coverage for adults in the program. Eventually, everyone needs a dentist.
“If you’re walking around without a front tooth, you can’t get a job,” she said.
Gregerson encourages the Asian community to get involved in local elections. Believing that it’s especially hard for minorities in her district to get elected, and even harder to be appointed to office, Gregerson said it takes a lot of outreach and resources that are not readily available to working people in her community — especially people of color.
“There has never been a person of color elected to the state legislature from our district,” she said. Gregerson is the first Asian American elected to the SeaTac City Council, and that town’s first Asian American deputy mayor. “I think that the Asian American community is amazingly powerful,” she said. “But we have to have the foresight in what it takes to be strong and to win.
“The old guard already knows what to do,” she said.
Gregerson’s legislative seat will come up for election in November 2014, but she won’t be sitting still in the meantime.
“We have many challenges facing South King County,” she said, “including investing in SR 509 and SR 167, implementing the Affordable Care Act, and ensuring economic fairness. I am excited to hit the ground running as the appointed State Representative from the 33rd Legislative District.” (end)
Sue Misao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.