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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Former AS President runs for state house seat

12 years after he served as Associated Students President, Paul Graves sets his sights on the state house.  // Photo courtesy of Paul Graves
12 years after he served as Associated Students President, Paul Graves sets his sights on the state house. // Photo courtesy of Paul Graves


While attending Western, Paul Grave’s conservative beliefs were challenged everyday.

But the criticisms just strengthened his arguments, he said.

“You develop your swimming muscles more when you are swimming upstream,” Graves said.

In the 2003-2004 school year, Graves was double majoring in philosophy and political science, and leading the campus as the Associated Students president, he said.  

Now, Graves is running as a Republican candidate for Washington’s fifth legislative district to represent communities east of Bellevue.

“I am a Republican. I’ve been a Republican. I am not shy about that,” he said.  

Student politics to state politics

Graves’ campaign is built on education, jobs, transportation and government accountability, according to his website.

Graves is also passionate about the environment, a passion that grew from his time at Western, he said. Graves, who is originally from Maple Valley, said he grew up in the woods

“In Bellingham you can’t go 10 feet without hitting a public park,” he said. “I love that kind of stuff.”
Graves wants to follow in the footsteps of Daniel J. Evans, former governor of Washington, as a Republican environmentalist, he said.

“You can care about the environment without simultaneously wanting to hurt the economy,” Graves said.

Being AS President
Graves first volunteered for the AS before he landed his position as vice president of legislative affairs as a sophomore, he said.
Then, he became the AS president in 2003.

“Once you get that bug for politics it never really goes away,” Graves said.

He described the AS presidency as a “mini-business degree” within itself.
The president has to work on budgets, deal with personnel problems and develop the mission for the organization, he said.

“Being student body president at Western is a pretty big job,” Graves said. “I think the budget that year was something like $1.7 million.”

During his term, Graves managed 150 employees, 30 program offices, a TV station, a radio station and a coffee shop, he said.

Eileen Coughlin is the vice president of enrollment and student services. Her job is to communicate between the administration and the AS. Coughlin regularly meets with the AS president one-on-one to give advice and help with any problems or concerns, she said. 

“Paul was a very thoughtful student leader,” she said. “He was a good reflector. He absorbed a lot of information and asked difficult questions.”

Allison Smith Bilas, who preceded Graves as AS president, said he always made her laugh at work.

“He has a contagious and very intelligent sense of humor. More often than not he had the Associated Student’s office in an uproar,” she said in an email. “This really brought our board together as a team, and in turn he was a leader among leaders.”

Legislative goals for Washington state

Graves believes closing the education gap between wealthy and poor students, and white and minority groups is the new civil rights movement of our time, he said.

He is the board secretary of Excel Public Charter School. The school focuses on skills for STEM fields, according to their website.

Graves is currently working as a lawyer at Perkins Coie LLP. He won pro bono attorney of the year in 2011 for his work handling cases for children in the foster care system.

Running for the state legislature is just a continuation of his community involvement, Graves said.

Now he’s running for state representatives for communities such as Issaquah, Fall City and Snoqualmie, and hopes to better the lives of the people living within the fifth district.


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