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Secretary Lee became the first Asian American Secretary of State when she was appointed by Governor Wes Moore in January 2023. She was also the first Asian American elected to the Maryland State Senate and the first Chinese American to be elected to the Maryland legislature.

Secretary Lee experienced adversity growing up as a third generation Chinese American in Montgomery County where she had to deal almost daily with bullying and racism that went ignored by teachers. Adversity didn’t relent as later she was sexually harassed in her first job.

Secretary Lee was deeply influenced by her parents who both saw the importance of civic duty and imparted this on their daughter. Her father was a US Navy World War II veteran and social worker and her mother worked as an artist at the Washington Post. As a child, her father took her to the National Mall where she saw and was inspired by thousands of civil rights and community activists from a diversity of communities who traveled to Washington, DC to participate  in the  Poor People’s Campaign and advocate for economic justice, (also known as the Poor People’s March on Washington,) an effort organized by Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., that he never lived to see. This early experience was significant in how Secretary Lee viewed the world and her future as a public servant.

Secretary Lee with fellow Commissioner Lieutenant Governor Aruna Miller.
Photo: Executive Office of the Governor.

Secretary Lee’s deep understanding of injustice and inequality only furthered her desire to change the world for the better. She attended the University of Maryland, College Park, and then the University of San Francisco Law School where she served as President of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association. During her summers, she served as a law clerk for the Asian Law Caucus and the US Department of Justice where she was sent to Uvalde, Texas to work on a Voting Rights case.  These experiences motivated her, early in her professional career, to help found the organization that became the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies. 

Secretary Lee practiced law in both the public and private sectors, including the US Commission on Civil Rights, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and Gebhardt & Associates.  On every step of her journey, Secretary Lee focused on building coalitions with like-minded individuals and achieving consensus between diverse communities.

Secretary Lee served as Co-Chair of the NAACP Multicultural Community Partnership, and as a Member of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, which at the time, hadlittle representation from the Asian American community. She helped create the Coalition of Asian Pacific American Democrats of Maryland, a statewide organization focused on voter registration, get out the vote (GOTV), candidate endorsements, advocacy, economic opportunity, and building relationships with elected officials and leaders from diverse communities. This organization still exists today and continues to affect positive change.

Secretary of Susan
Secretary Lee at the Anhui Delegation visit.
Photo: Executive Office of the Governor.

Secretary Lee told Maryland Two Fifty that she had never set out to be a politician. In 2002, Delegate Nancy Kopp was elected State Treasurer which created a vacancy. The Democratic Central Committee chose Secretary Lee to fill this vacancy in the House of Delegates and then Governor Parris Glendening appointed her to fill the seat. After the legislative session ended that year, she hit the ground running to launch a full-scale election campaign with an “army of interns,” from a diversity of backgrounds, including Asian Americans students, who got a firsthand taste of politics and learned about civic engagement. In 2014, Secretary Lee was elected as a state Senator in District 16.

Throughout her over 20 years in the legislature, Secretary Lee championed many bills: the Maryland Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, True Freedom Act in 2020, helping victims of human trafficking and domestic violence; the Anti-Exploitation Act; as well as bills to promote gun safety, cybersecurity, science, and cutting-edge technologies.  She is proud of her work as an elected official, and now she is proud and honored to serve in the Moore-Miller administration.

Secretary Lee served as the Senate Majority Whip and the President of the Women’s Legislative Caucus (Women Legislators of Maryland) where she led passage of an aggressive agenda of laws to empower and protect women, children, and families.

As the first Chair of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Legislative (AAPI) Caucus, she worked closely with the Black Caucus of Maryland, Latino Caucus, and Women’s Legislators of Maryland on issues and laws of common concern.

During her two decades in the Maryland legislature, Secretary Lee was a leader on legislation dealing with cybersecurity and innovation, identity theft, online fraud, consumer protection, pay equity, and gun safety and laws to fight domestic violence, sexual assault, human and labor trafficking, child and senior abuse, and hate crimes. She also led efforts to promote bioscience, nanobiotechnology, telehealth, IT, and emerging technologies.  

As Secretary of State, Lee strives to elevate Maryland on the world stage, focusing on climate change, emerging technologies, life sciences, innovation, investments that bring jobs and economic opportunities to Maryland, and making Maryland an international leader in those fields. She expressed her admiration for Governor Wes Moore and Lieutenant Governor Aruna Miller calling them “the best of the best, they are making Maryland world class.”

Secretary Lee at a bill signing with Governor Wes Moore.
Photo: Executive Office of the Governor.

Secretary Lee shared that although she is honored to be the first in so many ways, she hopes she is not the last. She hopes to continue to lay the foundation for women and people of color and all backgrounds and emphasizes that we must work together to fulfill the promise of America and make this a better world for all.