May 7, 2012, Seattle, WA – The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian American (PAAIA) and its connected PAC, the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC), recently had the opportunity to sit down with Cyrus Habib and discuss his campaign for the 48th Legislative District in the Washington State House of Representatives. If successful, Habib would make history by becoming the first Iranian American elected to a State Legislature.
Habib is a technology lawyer and community volunteer. He grew up in Bellevue, Washington and is a proud product of its public schools. Having lost his eyesight at age 8 to a rare form of childhood cancer, he learned early the importance of equal opportunity, hard work, and a quality education.
After winning a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford, Habib attended Yale Law School, where he served as editor of the law review. He returned to Washington following his graduation, and works at the Seattle-based law firm of Perkins Coie, where he assists startup technology firms with their early-stage legal needs.
A proponent of public service, Habib serves as a Human Services Commissioner for the city of Bellevue and as a Trustee of the Bellevue College Foundation. He also mentors and coaches high school students with mock trial and with the college admissions process.
Habib is the official Democratic Party nominee for the 48th Legislative District, which is being vacated by retiring Representative Deb Eddy. U.S. Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee, U.S. Congressman Adam Smith, State Senator Rodney Tom, and State Representative Ross Hunter, are among the many public officials, community leaders, and organizations who have endorsed his campaign.
For more information on Cyrus Habib and to view his campaign’s introductory video please visit: http://electcyrus.com/index.php
The following is a transcript of PAAIA’s interview with Cyrus Habib about the election and his campaign:
PAAIA/IAPAC: What inspired you to run for public office?
Habib: I am running for public office because I am concerned that our representation in the State Legislature does not currently reflect the myriad perspectives in our state that need a voice in government. As a son of Iranian American immigrants, a person with a disability, and a three-time cancer survivor, I know personally how transformative public education can be in the life of an individual. I have worked hard in my life, but I have also been given that opportunity to work hard and to succeed. I truly believe that this is what makes Washington a great state, and the U.S. a great country. But our emphasis has shifted over time away from investing in public goods like our school system and institutions of higher education. I’m running for office to correct that, and to fight for the opportunity for any child in our society to become excellent.
PAAIA/IAPAC: Tell us a little about the office you are seeking and the district that you are running in?
Habib: I am running for State Representative in Washington State’s 48th legislative district. The 48th includes the urban and suburban communities of Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Medina, Clyde Hill, Yarrow Point, and Hunts Point. The district has elected Democrats for the past decade, and is likely to do so again. It is fiscally moderate and socially progressive.
PAAIA/IAPAC: What are some of the challenges you believe your campaign committee must overcome to mount a successful campaign?
Habib: One of the challenges my campaign will have to overcome is the perception by some members of the political establishment in Washington State that it will be too difficult for a blind candidate to knock on the doors of voters in his district. From the time I lost my sight at the age of 8, I have refused to be limited by my disability, and I am eager to continue doorbelling my neighbors in the 48th district with the help of friends and volunteers.
PAAIA/IAPAC: What are the fundraising goals of your committee?
Habib: I plan to raise $300,000 throughout my campaign, raising $175,000 inadvance of the August 7th primary and the other $125,000 by Election Day on November 6th. I have so far raised $100,000.
PAAIA/IAPAC: What would differentiate you from any potential challengers?
Habib: I have experienced in my personal life the profound role that the State can play in creating opportunities for its residents. Were it not for the Department of Services for the Blind, I would never have learned to use a cane. Were it not for the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library, I would never have learned to read. Were it not for the Washington State School for the Blind, I would never have learned to use a computer with adaptive software. Most importantly, were it not for our public school system, I would never have been able to go from Braille to Yale. Mine is a distinctly American story, one that proves that success is possible for anyone, as long as we as a community afford each person the opportunity to obtain that success. As a direct beneficiary of state services, my voice would be a unique and much-needed one in Olympia. Moreover, as a lawyer who works daily with entrepreneurs and startups, I am uniquely positioned to champion the investment in innovation, education and infrastructure we need to create the jobs of tomorrow. Finally, I believe that my extensive experience volunteering in the community puts me in a good position to make it through the primary election and win in the fall.
The strength of my campaign has already been evidenced by my having received the sole endorsements of prominent elected officials in Washington State, including Congressmen Jay Inslee and Adam Smith; and two dozen state and local elected officials.
PAAIA/IAPAC: What particular skills or experiences will you bring to the Washington State Assembly?
Habib: While in college, I interned and later worked in Senator Maria Cantwell’s D.C.office. I also worked in Senator Hillary Clinton’s New York City office, helping displaced individuals and businesses following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I have spent years advocating for the rights of the disabled, first in college and then as a law student and a lawyer. I am particularly proud of my advocacy for a change in U.S.currency to make dollar bills accessible to low vision and blind individuals. Currently such bills are indistinguishable to millions ofAmericans, effectively shutting them out of many entry level jobs. I made this labor equity point to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, before Congress, and in the pages of the Washington Post and Seattle PI. We have prevailed in court, and await implementation ofthe court’s directive that bills be made accessible.
In my practice as a lawyer I help startups in hightech and other sectors with their early-stage legal needs, from business formation to licensing and venture financing. I greatly enjoy working with so many young, intelligent and creative entrepreneurs.
I am a Human Services Commissioner for the city of Bellevue, which makes funding decisions with respect to the needs of the city’s most vulnerable residents, including children, those seeking employment, and the elderly. I am proud to serve as a Trustee of the Bellevue College Foundation, which raises scholarship funds to help economically disadvantaged students of the college. I serve on the board of the Bellevue Downtown Association, and on the advisory board of Overlake Hospital’s Pulse! fundraising program. I also mentor and coach highschool students with mock trial and with the college admissions process.
I am a Precinct Committee Officer for the Democratic Party and serve on the boards of the Institute for a Democratic Future and the Washington Bus. I also volunteer and contribute to Democratic campaigns throughout the region.
PAAIA/IAPAC: What are the most critical issues facing the Washington State?
Education – We must invest in our K-12 and higher education systems to ensure a bright future for our state and to close the achievement gap.
Jobs – We must ensure that every Washingtonian has an opportunity to obtain job training, a job that pays a living wage, and access to healthcare and other benefits.
Quality of life – We must protect our natural environment, invest in sustainable transit solutions, and make Washington a great place to start a new business.
PAAIA/IAPAC: How does your campaign plan on addressing some of those issues?
Habib: Central to reorienting state government is determining which state services we want to prioritize, and then funding those priorities. I believe in prioritizing education and training, job creation and economic development, and the quality of life that makes this an attractive place to live and work.
In order to adequately fund these priorities, I believe we must look at a fairer and sensible revenue system. We must diversify our revenue structure in Washington State, and, in doing so, we should look at all options and take both a long- and short-term approach. We should look at a capital gains tax and the advantages and disadvantages of moving from a B & O tax to a traditional corporate income tax. At the same time, we should look at lowering the sales tax to give Washingtonians more purchasing power, and raising the taxable floor for B & O taxes in order to give tax relief to our small businesses. This is a conversation that Washington must have, and I look forward to championing a more reasonable tax structure. Finally, we must develop a logical policy with respect to tax exemptions. Not all tax exemptions are bad, but many are unnecessary or regressive, and those should be revisited and voted down. We absolutely must have a sunset provision that forces legislators to reauthorize tax exemptions every 5-10 years.
PAAIA/IAPAC: What role do you think Iranian Americans can play in your campaign and what do you expect from the community?
Habib: As I learned in 2008 when my mother, Susan Amini, ran for King County Superior Court Judge, the Iranian American community, when engaged, can be incredibly helpful in the political process. We are naturally proud of our achievements as a relatively young community in the U.S., and are eager to support one another when it is made clear how best we can help. Locally, I am asking Iranian Americans to support the campaign by volunteering time and making community introductions. This past weekend I was fortunate to have two Iranian Americans spend the day with me knocking on doors throughout the district. Nationally, I would love to engage Iranian Americans in my campaign, and will humbly and respectfully ask for financial and other support from outside the state.
PAAIA/IAPAC: What role can organizations like PAAIA/IAPAC play in assisting your campaign?
Habib: I would very much appreciate PAAIA/IAPAC’s support in my race. First, I could greatly benefit from media coverage of my race. I believe that other Iranian Americans will be intrigued by my story and my race, and national exposure would be incredibly helpful. More concretely, I would certainly appreciate being in touch with the thousands of Iranian-Americans living right here in the greater Seattle area. Although I know many local Iranian Americans personally, my personal network is only a small fraction of the community here.
At this early stage in the campaign, financial support, both direct and indirect, would make the biggest difference in positioning me to win this race. I am tremendously grateful for your consideration and support.