Enacting Policies for Real Change: Kathy Hoffman

Kathy Hoffman was slated for a retail career at Nordstrom, until a domestic violence incident changed her life.

When Hoffman became deeply involved with her case’s legal process in the early ‘90s, she also became interested in the rule of law, and eventually, how public policy can affect people’s lives. More than 25 years later, she now oversees regulatory and policy development for the Liquor and Cannabis Board for the entire state of Washington.

Hoffman began her career as a paralegal, under the presumption that she would eventually attend law school, but soon realized that work limited her ability to enact real change, so she pursued a master’s degree in public policy. But the more she learned, the more she wanted to learn, which led Hoffman to pursue a PhD at Antioch University in Leadership and Change, which she expects to complete in July 2021.

She started working with Washington’s Department of Health (DOH) in 2006, after serving at both the Washington State Health Care Authority and Attorney General’s Office, and returned to DOH in 2015 — as the state was beginning to lead the charge across the United States to address the opioid crisis, by reforming prescription policy. It was then that she became even more deeply committed to leading change and knew she had chosen the correct career path.

“I thought I could make a bigger impact on the world if I was crafting policy and changing how people think, instead of becoming a lawyer,” said Hoffman. “I used the skills I had developed as a paralegal and took them into the public realm.”

When she finished her Master’s in Public Administration, she knew she had to learn more.

‘When I finished my MPA, I was so sad,” she said, about completing her thesis on the application of chaos theory. “I was so fascinated (by chaos and complexity) and I said, ‘is that all there is?,’ I don’t know enough about this yet.”

A professor suggested again, that Hoffman pursue a Juris Doctor, or pursue a PhD in Public Administration at Antioch, incorporating research with her public policy work.

As the policy and rules director for the Liquor and Cannabis Board of the State of Washington, Hoffman oversees all marijuana, vapor, tobacco, and liquor regulatory and policy development in the Evergreen State. She is helping to rewrite the ways in which the licensing board engages with stakeholders, based on a “listen and learn” model, which she brought to the agency when she joined it in 2018, and is based on a process that she first studied at Antioch.

She was attracted to Antioch because she was looking for a non-traditional education, one focused on social justice and enacting change.

“What we are learning in this program is so sought after and valued by governmental agencies that are interested in innovation and stakeholder engagement,” said Hoffman. “We are helping people move through change, see how they can be part of the change, create the change, and direct the change.”

A focus at her job, and of her research at Antioch, is helping people communicate better. Her thesis is focused on a narrative study of the 11 United States that have decriminalized recreational and medical marijuana. She is talking to the directors of each state’s program to understand what it is like to lead change in a new, complex, and controversial area of regulation. In that way, she said she is helping people work together to find the balance of regulating a product that is legal in their state, but currently federally illegal. She’s also interested in exploring and better understanding the complexities associated with social equity and how  states have sought to right the wrongs experienced by communities that were, and continue to be, disproportionately impacted by the “War on Drugs.”

“I am not here to tell you what’s wrong. I’m here to help you find what’s right and make it better,” said Hoffman. “When you focus on the strengths that’s when the change happens.”

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