Swing districts, as the saying goes, are where majorities are made… and lost. Perhaps no place in Washington better epitomizes the phrase swing district than Washington’s 26th Legislative District, which spans the southeastern Kitsap Peninsula. At the end of the Bush error, the district was represented exclusively by Democrats, but Republicans gradually wrested back all three seats.
Now Democrats believe they’re poised to once again flip the district blue.
The 26th’s current legislators are Republicans Jan Angel, Jesse Young, Michelle Caldier. Angel is the district’s senator; Young and Caldier are its representatives.
Angel was the first of the three Republicans to win an election in the 26th.
In 2008, a Democratic wave year, she defeated Kim Abel to become Democratic State Representative Patricia Lantz’s successor. Angel held the seat through the 2010 and 2012 cycles, and moved up to the Washington State Senate in 2013, defeating Dr. Nathan Schlicher in an expensive special election.
Schlicher had been trying to keep the seat in Democratic hands following the departure of Derek Kilmer, a popular Democrat who left the Legislature at the end of 2012 to take over for legendary Congressman and Washington institution Norm Dicks in the United States House of Representatives.
Last May, however, Angel unexpectedly dropped her reelection bid, choosing retirement over yet another campaign. She threw her support behind Marty McClendon, the Pierce County Republican chairman and a perennial candidate.
When Angel moved up to the Senate at the end of 2013, Republicans tapped Jesse Young to take her place in the House. Young was reelected in 2014 and 2016.
In 2014, Republicans completed their takeover of the district by sweeping out retired U.S. Navy Captain Larry Seaquist, who had been elected as part of the Democratic wave in 2006. Seaquist was defeated by Republican Michelle Caldier in one of the nastiest, most bitter legislative campaigns in state history.
Democrats are anxious to reverse all those losses and believe that they have three candidates who can swing the district back into their column this year: Emily Randall, Connie FitzPatrick, and Joy Stanford. In the August 2018 Top Two election, all three candidates finished in first place ahead of their Republican opponents.
Emily Randall (Democrat): 49.58%
Marty McClendon (Republican): 46.39%
Bill Scheidler (Other): 4.04%
State Representative – Position 1
Connie Fitzpatrick (Democrat): 48.92%
Jesse L. Young (Republican): 42.13%
Naomi Evans (Republican): 8.94%
State Representative – Position 2
Joy Stanford (Democrat): 41.77%
Michelle Caldier (Republican): 34.89%
Randy Boss (Republican): 18.01%
Marco Padilla (Other): 5.34%
None of the Republican candidaes got anywhere close to securing a majority of the vote in the preliminary round, not even the incumbents Caldier and Young, which is an ominous sign for the party of Donald Trump.
Democrats, meanwhile, say they’re fired up and ready to go.
All three Democratic candidates cited affordability being a central issue facing the county, as well as how the 26th currently deals with growth. The Puget Sound Regional Council expects growth in Kitsap County to steadily increase over the next two decades; from 117,300 residents in 2018 to a likely 363,928 residents by 2040.
“We need to do some real work around bringing good paying jobs to our community,” said Emily Randall, the State Senate hopeful.
She said that, to her, that looks like “creating good educational pathways and expanding our apprenticeship opportunities, but also allowing small businesses to thrive by increasing the business and occupation (B&O) tax exemption level.”
Because Washington does not have an income tax, the state collects a business and occupation tax which is calculated on the gross receipts from business activities. Labor, materials, taxes, and other business costs cannot be deducted.
Connie FitzPatrick, the Democratic challenger taking on Jesse Young in one of the district’s two House races, echoed Randall’s sentiments.
“From what I’m hearing at the doors, I feel [the biggest issues facing the 26th] is property taxes rising that are not commiserate with the rising of income and the lack of smart growth solutions,” said FitzPatrick.
“And to me, those are the top [issues] that lay the backbone for the community, and I hear it over and over throughout the district.”
FitzPatrick believes that it will take multiple solutions to tackle lack of revenue needed to fund public services in her district. She’d like to see Washington lower the requirement for passage of bonds. The state Constitution currently requires supermajority votes to pass bonds at both the state and local levels.
She also believes Washington is sorely in need of tax reform. (The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has ranked Washington’s tax code as the most upside down, regressive tax code in the country.)
Joy Stanford, who is challenging Caldier for the other House seat, agreed, saying: “We have issues that we’re trying to react to because we did not plan for growth.” Stanford hopes that by reducing the threshold required to pass a bond, the 26th Legislative District could finally see two schools built, one in the Peninsula District and the other in the South Kitsap School District.
“As we move forward, I think there is room with a Legislature that will work together in figuring out how we can equitably fund education at the state level,” she said.
South Kitsap School District, in particular, has been feeling the pains of overcrowding and saw multiple bond measures fail over the years to build another high school. In July, the district’s board of directors authorized a general obligation bond measure to appear on the November ballot.
FitzPatrick, who graduated from South Kitsap High School, said that even when she was at the school thirty-one years ago, it felt packed. She explained that many voters in the district have voiced their frustration over years of conversations about new construction for schools but bonds continuously failing.
“They have built all these developments [in the district],” she said. “Yet they’ve needed a high school out there for at least twenty years.”
FitzPatrick said that voters across the 26th seem excited and energized leading into the general election, and says of her fellow Democratic challengers: “We really like each other! We’re in constant contact.”
Stanford concurred, saying that when she’s knocking on doors, she’s happy. She described it as the best part of running for office. “It’s talking to people in their own space,” she explained, adding that her message is well received.
“Our community […] self-identifies as pretty fiercely independent,” Randall told NPI. “This is where my family has called home for decades, since the fifties and sixties and this is the community that shaped me.”
“I think we have great opportunities to drive and grow in a way that’s right for us, but that takes work. And we know how to work here.”
Randall added that she thinks voters in the 26th finally feel heard, and they want those representing them in Olympia to work as hard for them as they have to work to take care of their families in a district in flux.
“I think almost all of us care about most of the same things,” she said. “About being able to build a life that’s affordable and fulfills our dreams.”
Ballots for the general election will be mailed to Washington State residents in about two weeks. For the first time in a general election, no postage will be required to return a ballot through the United States Postal Service.
If 2018 is anything like 2006, the 26th could have very different representation than it does now when January 2019 rolls around.