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From filling sandbags to secretary of state

Steve and Pam Hobbs stand in front of his new office in Olympia. Washington’s 16th Secretary of State, Hobbs is also an officer in the Washington Army National Guard. Courtesy photo

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The Washington National Guard is comprised of more than 8,000 citizen soldiers and airmen dedicated to the mission of safeguarding Washington state and, if need be, the United States.

"The National Guard is the only service where you can fill up sandbags and help your neighbor, put out a fire, and defend the United States," began Lt. Col. Steve Hobbs, commander, Theater Public Affairs Support Element, Washington Army National Guard.

His "fill up sandbags" approach to helping one's neighbors and serving the nation now includes his new duties as Washington's 16th Secretary of State.

Appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to replace Kim Wyman, who resigned mid-term to join the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Hobbs was sworn in on Nov. 22, 2021.

Of Japanese descent, he is the first person of color to head the office, which is one of nine statewide elected positions.

"Never in my wildest dreams could I have ever imagined serving in this capacity," said Hobbs.

Born into a low-income family, those dreams began in Lake Stevens, Washington. After his parents divorced, his mother struggled to raise him and his sister by herself.

"I started working as a paperboy when I was nine, and in my middle-school years I spend my summers picking berries on a local farm," continued Hobbs. "I worked all the time; I often gave my money to my mom so we could keep a roof over our heads."

When not working, Hobbs read comic books, played Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and first-generation Nintendo. He also loved to read fantasy novels, perform in school plays (his favorite is The 1940s Radio Hour), and sing in the Jazz Choir.

Through high school Hobbs worked as a dishwasher at a Japanese restaurant; later, he worked at Sears as a PBX operator. He also learned from his middle and high school history teacher the importance of public service.

He added that being of Asian descent and a nerd in the 1970s in Snohomish County was a challenge. 

"I got beat up quite a bit, and there were racial epithets spray-painted outside my house .... I was a little guy - not very physical," Hobbs remembered.

But he did not let the racist words and the bullying deter him. 

"As for overcoming those challenges, I simply persevered. I got in a lot of fights at school, and I eventually learned if you stand up to bullies and fight them, they will do a ‘cost-benefit analysis' and decide not to pick on you again," he said.

Unable to afford the costs of attending college, Hobbs joined the Army Reserve at 17 years old as a private and served in military intelligence until 1996.

During this time, he earned an associate's degree from Everett Community College and a BA in political science from the University of Washington.

In 1996 Hobbs transferred to the active-duty Army, and in 1999 he earned his commission as an infantry officer.  He served in both Kosovo and Iraq. In 2006 he joined the Washington Army National Guard.

After he left active-duty, Hobbs felt like there was something bigger he wanted to accomplish. "So in 2006 I ran for elected office," he said.

He defeated a 12-year incumbent state senator to represent the state's 44th District. Since then, Hobbs' legislative bipartisan efforts to reach solutions include several veterans' bills, all-day kindergarten, expanding career and technical education, and the 2015 transportation package.

He noted that his military experience has helped him to better advocate for veterans and improved emergency management.

"This perspective is something many legislators don't have because they aren't veterans, or combat veterans," he added.

"Conversely, on the political side I've learned that I can't ‘do the military thing' all the time. To gain cooperation in the Legislature required collaboration and compromise."

As Secretary of State, Hobbs is the guarantor of the continuity and stability of good government in the state, to include certification, filing and preservation of public records, the supervision of all aspects of state and local elections, and the registration and regulatory oversight of businesses and charities.

"I have always been a dedicated public servant, from the moment I joined the Army to the present," he concluded.

"Whether serving my community, the public, the state of Washington or the country, public service has always been a part of me."

Not bad for a person willing to fill up sandbags.

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