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November 2022

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Georgia Member Runs for Secretary of State

Bee Nguyen is many things. She's the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, the state representative for Georgia's 89th district, and, as she proudly touts in her campaign for secretary of state, a card-carrying member of Atlanta Local 613.

"Bee is very intelligent and seasoned in politics," said Local 613 Business Manager Kenny Mullins. "She is a strong and compelling candidate because she is genuine and she's IBEW. She cares about serving the people of Georgia. It's a calling for her, not a job."

Nguyen's background isn't a typical one for an IBEW member. She doesn't come from a long line of electricians or tradespeople. Her parents fled from Vietnam in search of basic civil liberties. When her father first arrived in America, he worked as an orderly at a mental institution making minimum wage — $3.35 an hour at the time. At night, he would study in their basement apartment using a cardboard box as his desk. For him, education was the only way to escape poverty.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Nguyen spent a lot of her career in the education sector. She started a nonprofit organization and she spent a decade in Georgia public high schools where she provided after-school programming, wraparound services and one-on-one mentoring.

"I saw the lack of investment in our public school system, and it really helped to inform my decision to run for office," Nguyen said.

It was after the disastrous Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision in 2018 that Nguyen decided to become a union member. Janus stripped public unions of funds and the power to fight for workers the same way that states use right-to-work laws to impede private-sector organizing. For Nguyen, it wasn't something that she could just stand by and watch happen.

"I decided to put my money where my mouth is and find out how I could become a union member," Nguyen said. "I had a good relationship with the IBEW from working on previous campaigns together, so I just went up to [Local 613 Political Registrar] James Williams and asked him how I could join. About a month or two later I was sworn in and now I'm a dues-paying member."

Nguyen currently holds the state House seat formerly held by friend-of-the-IBEW Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor for a second time. But after seeing the barrage of voter suppression policies being enacted in Georgia, Nguyen, who is the first Asian-American Democratic woman to hold elected office in the Georgia General Assembly, decided to run for secretary of state. If she wins, she would also be Georgia's first Asian-American elected to a political statewide office.

"I'm running to make sure there's a free and fair election for everyone," Nguyen said. "Our democracy is healthier when every eligible person can participate without barriers."

Nguyen sits on the House committee that oversees election laws, which garnered a lot of attention after the 2020 presidential election and multiple Republican attempts to overturn Georgia's election results. After one hearing where Sister Nguyen deftly discredited a so-called expert witness, she was even targeted with death threats.

"I had people calling for my execution," Nguyen said. "But it didn't deter me from the work to be done."

That fierceness of conviction is something she carries with her throughout her work as a state representative and as a candidate.

"She actually cares about working families in Georgia," Williams said. "It's not just a line for her."

Nguyen also noted the similarities between voter suppression at the state ballot box and those used by corporations in union elections.

"Just look at what Amazon did during the organizing drive in Alabama," Nguyen said. "They purposefully changed the rules — during a pandemic — to make it harder to vote by mail. It's the same playbook used by Republicans to make it harder for working people to vote by restricting mail-in voting, taking away drop boxes, and even prohibiting the passing out of water."

As secretary of state, Nguyen wouldn't just have the ability to make voting more free and fair, she'd also be able to work closely with labor to address issues that are important to electricians because the secretary of state's office administers licensure for electricians in the state of Georgia.

"It's about working alongside labor," Nguyen said. "I'm committed to bringing labor unions, my brothers and sisters, along with me every step of the way."

Both Mullins and Williams say they're proud to have an IBEW sister running for office.

"It brings awareness that our local is active and that we are more than just a group of electrical workers," Mullins said. "We are also loaded with members that are servants to the people."

Williams says they're actively encouraging more members to run.

"No one other than an IBEW member can advocate for our needs better than one of our own sisters or brothers," Williams said.

For her part, Nguyen, who is the only statewide candidate who's also a member of a labor union, says she would love to see more union siblings in office.

"If union members don't get involved, the laws won't change," Nguyen said. "It's about having a diversity of candidates that can give us more creative solutions. By bringing labor to the table we can do things like amplify apprenticeships in addition to easing access to the ballot box."




Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen is running for secretary of state and she has the backing of her brothers and sisters from Atlanta Local 613.