By NINA HUANG, Northwest Asian Weekly
SEATTLE — Louis Watanabe, a Democrat, has announced plans to run for the Washington State Senate seat in the 37th Legislative District in November.
He is looking to succeed Democrat Adam Kline, who will retire at the end of this year.
Watanabe, who announced his candidacy Feb. 26, is a businessman and educator who is “hoping to make a change in the 37th.”
Watanabe’s number one priority is helping to put people back to work and getting the local economy back on track to create a bright future for the next generation.
As a businessman and educator, Watanabe is combining his decades of experience to run for the State Senate and help his local community.
Watanabe grew up in Santa Monica, attended high school there, and graduated from UCLA with a degree in math and applied science (physics).
His parents’ experience at the Manzanar and Tule Lake internment camps has deeply influenced him.
“They lived behind barbed wire… from that experience, they wanted a better life for their children. Hard work and good education would open doors to good opportunities,” Watanabe explained.
Watanabe summed up his parents’ situation with a Japanese proverb, “Fall seven times and stand up eight.”
“I am a person who is committed to finding a better way to break social economic barriers,” he continued.
Watanabe was also inspired by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who worked in civil rights along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Watanabe’s first mentor was his mother. “She learned to play the guitar, so we could do sing-alongs,” he said.
His mother also taught Watanabe how to cook, which came in handy when he was often the first one home to prepare dinner for his parents, brother, and sister.
Watanabe founded Dynamical Systems Research, Microsoft’s first acquisition. But after 18 years in the engineering and software industry, he decided it was time for a change.
He got his first exposure to the educational system as a community volunteer, helping his friend Leslie Leung critique student projects. After that, Leung asked him if he wanted to teach. Watanabe started teaching in April of 2002, and he quickly learned that teaching was not easy.
“It’s like the first of anything,” he said. “The first year was the hardest I’ve ever had. I had a certain idea of what it was to be a teacher. To teach is to learn twice.
“Once I got the notion that it was about the students — it changes the mindset about how you deliver the material,” he said.
During his first year, Watanabe didn’t always have the answers to his students’ questions, but he got better at it, and got a sense of what students really need.
For example, lectures used to work well for Watanabe in college, but when he gave a few talks on financial statements and his students still didn’t understand, he knew he had to change something. He eventually turned the material into a worksheet as a homework assignment, and then the students worked through it and discussed as a group to understand it better.
He taught business and statistics to a wide range of students for nine years at Bellevue College. He also served as business counselor at the Bellevue Entrepreneur Center helping small businesses get off the ground.
Aside from his work, Watanabe said that people would be surprised to learn that he and his wife used to teach foxtrot swing, and that he is a big fan of deep-sea fishing and the game of chess.
In addition to his teaching experiences, Watanabe has been very involved in the community.
Watanabe dedicated his time and leadership to the Bellevue College Foundation, National Education Association, Asian Counseling and Referral Service, the University of Washington Consulting and Business Development Center, the National Association of Asian American Professionals, and the Japanese American Citizens League.
Watanabe wants to help people realize their dreams in the three issues of his platform — public education, social economic justice, and small businesses.
“I am passionate about people reaching their full potential,” he said, adding that the best way to ensure that is with a “great education to realize that potential and be prepared for the 21st century. It’s all an educational process.
“I’m an organizer, negotiator, and a mediator. As a founder of a company, I know what it takes to start a business and I want to bring my experience to work for things that matter to people,” he added.
Watanabe believes there is great potential in the community, and he wants to help attract the right kinds of companies to the area because it’s important to have the ideal opportunities right in the neighborhood.
“There is a big opportunity to take what’s already been invested in the neighborhood to do the things necessary to make it the real benefit of the 37th Legislative District,” he said.
Another Asian American Democrat, Pramila Jayapal, who was born in India, announced her candidacy on March 10. Founder and executive director for more than a decade at the immigrant rights group OneAmerica, Jayapal currently works on the national stage with the Center for Community Change on issues of race and economic opportunity, while also leading a national campaign on women and immigration.
Watanabe said he welcomes Jayapal’s entrance into the race. “The 37th Legislative District is a diverse district, so having substantive talks about many issues is a great thing.” Jayapal also welcomed Watanabe’s candidacy, saying she really likes and respects him.
The 37th District comprises Rainier Valley, Rainier Beach, Columbia City, North Beacon Hill, Mt. Baker, Leschi, Madrona, Skyway, and part of Beacon Hill and Renton.
It had been a general assumption by some that one of the district’s representatives, Sharon Tomiko Santos or Eric Pettigrew, might run for the vacant Senate seat, but as of March 11 neither had joined the race.
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