Joe Fain: 2013 40 Under 40 Honoree

Puget Sound Business Journal

By Rachel Lerman

Joe Fain
Senator, Washington State Senate • 32

Washington state Sen. Joe Fain believes he has found the perfect job for himself based on his traits: a strong work ethic and “channelable ADD.”

Always a curious person, Fain said he expects to be 70 years old and still not be able to answer the question, “what do you want to do with your life?”

That’s what appeals to the state’s youngest elected senator about politics — the opportunity to explore and delve into so many different fields.

A state senator since 2011, he serves as the senate’s majority floor leader and this year helped found the Majority Coalition Caucus, a combination of Democrats and Republicans. A Republican himself, he believes in the strength of bipartisanship, and successfully ran the initiative in King County to make the county government nonpartisan.

“I don’t believe that good ideas are necessarily Democratic or Republican,” he said.

After graduating high school, Fain was working as a swim coach at Mount Rainier High School when a mother of two of his students — King County Councilmember Julia Patterson — offered him an internship.

“From then on I was bitten by the bug and very interested in learning more and doing more,” he said.

Since being elected in 2011, Fain has helped author the transportation budget in 2014, worked on extending foster-care benefits to young adults entering the work force and helped create a new teacher evaluation method to help teachers be as effective as possible.

Fain keeps his entire life planned using online planning tools, an essential for him as he hops around from business meetings to community events to the senate floor. He’s always been organized, whether it’s creating spreadsheets for the financials of swim lessons or drafting a transportation budget for the state.

“In every job that I’ve ever been in I have tried to find ways to make it more efficient and to systematize it,” he said.

And it works well for him, though he admits it is counter-intuitive due to his nature of being a “wild procrastinator.” The hardest four years of his life were when he worked for the King County Council full time while simultaneously completing the MBA/JD program at Seattle University in the evenings.

“I’m not sure I’m still recovered from that,” he laughed. “That’s where my penchant for self-punishment began, I think.”

And he hasn’t stopped his busy schedule since.

“The attitude in my district is: ‘Oh, just ask Joe, he’ll say yes!’” he said. He enjoys being involved in community events, and last year took home the top prize for competing in Kent’s Dancing with the Stars.

And during the 2013 interim session, he is serving as a King County deputy prosecutor working on prosecuting DUI cases so he will know how to improve DUI laws when he gets back to Olympia.

He spends as much time as possible with his wife, Steffanie. His family plans several events every year and they all go to together, often to sporting events.

Fain is a big advocate for active youth recreation and supports organizations that help kids build life skills and community through sports. Youth sports solve many problems, he said, including making kids physically active as well as bringing adults in the community together.

Fain said no matter what field he works in, he’ll continue to strive to be intellectually engaged, spending time with his family and working to make his community a better place, all while having fun.


Born: Burien.

Grew up: Des Moines.

Family status: Married.

Word that best describes you: Curious.

How your parents influenced your career: My parents devoted their lives to public service as educators but were very apolitical. With a combined 82 years of public schools service, they were, and still are, leaders in the community as board members of nonprofits and volunteers in civic organizations. They set an expectation of community involvement and service, I just don’t think they ever expected me to take it to the extreme.

Education: Bachelor of Arts in political science, University of Washington; Master of Business Administration, Seattle University Albers School of Business; Juris Doctorate, Seattle University School of Law.

Growing up, you wanted to be: High school principal.

Career: Public affairs consultant, Pacific Public Affairs; legislative staff, King County Council District 13; judicial aide to the presiding judge, King County District Court; policy and communications director, King County Council District 7; chair and sponsor, King County Initiative 26; chief of staff, King County Council District 7; state Senator, Washington State Legislature.

Other career you would want: Any career where I can work with a room full of fun, smart people with a singular goal.

Favorite MP3: “Don’t Stop Me Now,” by Queen.

Your favorite movie: “Air Force One.”

Wheels: 2005 electric blue pickup truck and 1966 Impala SS.

Favorite tech gadget: All of them!

Favorite stress release: Hot yoga.

Favorite vacation spot: My couch.

Favorite escape: Bad sci-fi movies.

Guilty pleasure: Peanut butter-filled pretzels.

Favorite must read: “How to Win an Election,” by Cicero.

Superpower you would like to have: Teleportation (I hate driving).

Talent or fact about you that would surprise people: I’m a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a former instructor, but these days I probably wouldn’t even be able to protect myself against my 3-year-old nephew.

Cause that you are passionate about and why: Youth athletics. As an athlete and as a coach, sports was a big part of my life growing up. Learning concepts like teamwork, hard work, and even how to deal with failure at a young age is invaluable. Too many kids are unable to gain these experiences because of the financial barriers to participation. Uniforms, equipment, league fees, field rental costs, student fees — all can contribute to keeping young people from getting involved. These barriers are easy to tear down.

Civic: Board member, Auburn Youth Resources; board member, Highline Community College Foundation; budget leadership cabinet, Senate Transportation Committee; member, Senate early learning and K-12 education committee; member, Senate financial institutions, housing and insurance committee; chair, legislative evaluation and accountability program committee; board member, Auburn Public Schools Foundation; member, Kent Rotary; member, Auburn, Kent, and Covington Chambers of Commerce; board member, Sports in Schools; member. joint transportation committee; member, joint task force on education funding; member, Horse Racing Commission; chair, Citizens for Independent Government.

Dining and Dealing: Starbucks. I can hit four or five in an afternoon going from meeting to meeting.

How you define success: Some politicians want 51 percent of the people to like them 100 percent of the time. I want 100 percent of the people to like me 51 percent of the time.

This inspires you: When someone quietly sacrifices something to benefit someone else.

What’s the best advice you ever received: Assistants and administrative staff know more about your job then you do. Keep them happy and respect their judgment. Make friends with the person who has the keys.

What business advice do you have for others: You’ll serve on a lot of teams in your life, choose them carefully. “Who” is always more important than “what.” Also, it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.

How you are a mentor: My dad always says, “If you can’t teach it, you don’t know it.” As a result I have always sought opportunities to learn something better by teaching it to others. Whether it’s a classroom full of students or a formal mentee, I want them to learn through teaching me.

Biggest perks of your job: Speaking with the hundreds of fourth-grade students who visit the capitol each year. Throughout the legislative session, dozens of fourth-grade classes from across my district spend the day touring the state capitol. I will put negotiations, committee action or any other business on hold to be able to spend time talking and listening to these young citizens. Untouched by the cynicism of politics and the process, they are just starting to learn about the best of what our democratic system of government has to offer. I always ask each class, “Who is my boss?” Frequent answers range from “the governor” and “the president” to “Bill Gates” or “your wife!” While the last one is mostly true, I take great joy in sharing with them the truth — that they live in a culture that will soon trust them to govern themselves. It’s a complicated concept that often falls beyond the grasp of many at this age, but there is a visible moment of understanding for some and that is a powerful moment to witness.

Legacy you want to leave: As the political extremes begin gaining more power in our institutions of government, I hope I can contribute to a political legacy that elevates collaboration over brinkmanship. There will always be strife and disagreement in politics, that is the natural result of the democratic form of government in a diverse community. Yet, the public does not believe that compromise is a dirty word. I hope to be part of a culture shift in politics, particularly state and local politics, that makes bipartisanship popular again.

The turning point in your career: In 2010, After working as staff in all three branches of King County government for nearly a decade, I decided it was time to take the plunge and run for office. But the true turning point happened years earlier in April of 2004 when I was hired by King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer. He mentored me and believed in my potential. Over the years, he pushed my limits in preparation to not only be a candidate someday, but to govern effectively when given the opportunity.

Your next big career goal: Re-election next year.

Your next big personal goal: More time spent watching bad movies with my awesome wife, Steffanie.