By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Joby Shimomura is a fourth-generation Japanese American, recently appointed as Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff. On April 13, she took time to talk about her professional background and how she found her way to the Governor’s office.
The event was hosted by the Hokubei Hochi Foundation, a non-profit that celebrates and preserves the culture of the Nikkei and Japanese people through community engagement.
Influenced by family ties in the community, Shimomura was inspired to work in the political world as a teen, and gained early experience through volunteering at civic events and legislative internships. As she neared high school graduation, Shimomura debated whether she should attend college, or forego it completely to chase her dreams of working in Washington, D.C.
Throwing caution to the wind, she went with the latter choice and uprooted her life to the nation’s capital in the early 1990s. She took on a slew of informational interviews, and it quickly became apparent that, at the age of 18, Shimomura lacked the professional network she needed to break into politics.
“You really need to have a relationship with people — you really need to have someone who can vouch for you because it’s so competitive in this world,” recounted Shimomura.
Shimomura eventually took on an entry-level position working for congressman John Miller. Miller represented the 1st Congressional District of Washington as a Republican. As a Democrat, Shimomura was initially hesitant to accept the role, but she credits this move as one her best career decisions, as she picked up extensive hands-on experience in the field, while also challenging her notion of partisan politics.
She eventually moved back to Seattle and started working again. In this time, Shimomura discovered that she was more of a “startup person,” and recognized that what excited her professionally was to not feel rooted down to any long-term project, which resulted in her working brief stints on political campaigns.
This led her to meeting Jay Inslee. After connecting with Inslee immediately, Shimomura was invited to run his campaigns for governor in 1996 and congress in 1998, with the latter race being successful. Shimomura returned to Washington, D.C., where she served as Inslee’s congressional chief of staff for six years.
But Shimomura’s “startup” mentality made her antsy for change. She left her position with Inslee’s office, and returned to Seattle where she took time off from professional work. She picked up stained glass as a hobby, which gave her a newfound peace and passion.
Still, Shimomura did not stay away long from the political world. She reunited with Inslee and ran his campaign in 2012 for Washington state governor, citing the race as one of the most challenging things she has done professionally. Shimomura moved to Olympia to become the governor’s senior advisor, and helped recruit his Cabinet and executive team members.
She was eventually appointed as his chief of staff in late 2013.
Shimomura spoke candidly about the recent crises that Gov. Inslee’s administration has faced, such as the I-5 Skagit River Bridge collapse and the Oso mudslide.
“Our big challenge is figuring out how to anticipate and plan for these things happening while continuing to focus on the long-term goals you want to get done on your agenda,” said Shimomura.
She was also quick to clarify that, despite the very high-level status of her role, she was still learning to understand what the governor expects of her moving forward. She credited her long relationship with the governor as a factor in her success.
“It just made sense for me to play this role,” said Shimomura of the natural progression of her appointment. “I’ve worked on and off for [Inslee] the last 17 years. When you’re an elected official, being able to know that you’ve got somebody on your side — all the time, looking out for your best interests, and trusting their judgment — that’s a critical relationship to have. It is probably a little unique and rare, compared to other chief of staffs and their governors.”
Despite her storied yet young career in politics, Shimomura made it clear that she had big dreams that lie outside the Governor’s office. Her current aspiration? To make time for and return to her stained glass studio. (end)
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.