Adison Richards versus Spencer Hutchins
Adison Richards versus Spencer Hutchins

Swing dis­tricts are where “the rub­ber meets the road” in pol­i­tics — where statewide majori­ties are made or lost. While Washington’s 26th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict has not elect­ed a Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date to the State House since 2012, Adi­son Richards’ per­for­mance in the Top Two sug­gests that could change this year.

Richards was able to gar­ner a bare major­i­ty of the vote (50.07%) in the ini­tial round of Wash­ing­ton’s two-part gen­er­al elec­tion sys­tem, edg­ing Repub­li­can Spencer Hutchins, who achieved 49.84% of the vote. Just one hun­dred and thir­teen votes sep­a­rat­ed the rivals and no oth­er can­di­dates were on the ballot.

The 26th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict encom­pass­es por­tions of Kit­sap and Pierce Coun­ty, stretch­ing from Port Orchard and Bre­mer­ton to the north to Gig Har­bor and the Key Penin­su­la in the south. Repub­li­cans have won each of the dis­tric­t’s state House elec­tions since 2014. Pri­or to that, the 26th had been rep­re­sent­ed in the House by Lar­ry Seaquist (who held Posi­tion 2) for more than half a decade.

Richards and Hutchins are vying for a rare open seat in a swing dis­trict because incum­bent Repub­li­can Jesse Young decid­ed to chal­lenge Demo­c­ra­t­ic State Sen­a­tor Emi­ly Ran­dall for a four-year term rather than seek reelection.

The two can­di­dates made a post-Labor Day joint appear­ance on Thurs­day, Sep­tem­ber 8th at a forum orga­nized by the Gig Har­bor Cham­ber of Com­merce, a local busi­ness asso­ci­a­tion renowned across the State of Wash­ing­ton and the Pacif­ic North­west for its com­mit­ment to civic engagement.

The can­di­dates exhib­it­ed civil­i­ty rather than ran­cor and high­light­ed many of their sim­i­lar­i­ties. Richards referred to him­self as a mod­er­ate and stat­ed that he “want[s] to work with peo­ple on both sides of the aisle to find solu­tions that are going to serve this com­mu­ni­ty.” Addi­tion­al­ly, when asked about which his­tor­i­cal fig­ure he would mod­el his career after, he cit­ed Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lincoln.

Mean­while, Hutchins talked about how “[Adi­son] and I have become bud­dies over the course of this cam­paign” con­tin­u­ing to say that he believes this kind of friend­ship, despite polit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, is what our pol­i­tics needs.

Richards iden­ti­fied address­ing the hous­ing cri­sis, pub­lic safe­ty, and help­ing small busi­ness­es as his top pri­or­i­ties for 2023–2024.

Hutchins also iden­ti­fied pub­lic safe­ty and the hous­ing cri­sis as key issues, but focused on the need for civil­i­ty in pol­i­tics and  empha­sized his dis­agree­ment with the pol­i­cy direc­tions cham­pi­oned by Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee.

The can­di­dates spent the major­i­ty of the debate answer­ing audi­ence questions.

When asked about the pri­ma­ry issue fac­ing the dis­trict and how they would address it, both can­di­dates spoke about the need for increased pub­lic safe­ty and changes to the tax code to help small busi­ness­es. Although they agreed on the nature of the prob­lems fac­ing the state, they dif­fer on how to respond.

Richards cit­ed the prin­ci­pal obsta­cles fac­ing small busi­ness­es as safe­ty and tax­es. “I was talk­ing to a small busi­ness own­er on the Key Penin­su­la who runs an auto repair shop. He hasn’t got­ten a full night’s sleep in a cou­ple years. He’s always get­ting wok­en up in the mid­dle of the night, the alarm going off… that isn’t right for our small busi­ness­es.” With respect to tax­es, he sug­gest­ed “cre­at­ing anoth­er cat­e­go­ry for small busi­ness­es, a micro-busi­ness cat­e­go­ry” as the state’s cur­rent tax code does not accu­rate­ly account for the size of most small businesses.

He empha­sized the need to stream­line reg­u­la­tions across the local and state lev­els to set small busi­ness­es up for suc­cess and prosperity.

Hutchins empha­sized that the costs of dam­ages from van­dal­ism and theft hurts busi­ness­es’ bot­tom lines, and railed against reg­u­la­tions. Hutchins insist­ed that “the first thing we’ve got to do in order to sup­port our local small busi­ness­es and our local econ­o­my is get the state out of the busi­ness of tak­ing, tak­ing, taking.”

The can­di­dates were asked how they would respond to the adop­tion of reg­u­la­tions that will ban the sale of gas-pow­ered cars by 2035.

Richards argued that the state can­not sim­ply con­tin­ue to issue mandates.

Richards said: “I am about out­comes, and if the out­come we want to achieve is to get gas pow­ered cars off the road, well, then we’ve got to make it tan­gi­ble. We’ve got to make it affordable.”

Hutchins’ response focused less on the actu­al issue and instead on his oppo­si­tion to what he views as a “gov­er­nor who is leg­is­lat­ing by exec­u­tive fiat” and empha­sized the need for local rep­re­sen­ta­tives to speak truth to power.

Addi­tion­al­ly, the can­di­dates were asked by an audi­ence mem­ber if they would sup­port leg­is­la­tion increas­ing or decreas­ing access to abor­tion or leg­is­la­tion increas­ing access to abor­tion for those out of state.

Hutchins demurred on the issue, empha­siz­ing that it is a per­son­al mat­ter that “the vot­ers of the state of Wash­ing­ton have made their deci­sion on this issue many years ago,” and that “[he] believe[s] that any changes to our abor­tion regime, our laws around abor­tion in Wash­ing­ton, need to be made by the vot­ers of the state of Wash­ing­ton”. He also stat­ed that the laws of Wash­ing­ton should be respect­ed by oth­er state gov­ern­ments, some of which are cur­rent­ly Republican-controlled.

Richards, on the oth­er hand, offered an unequiv­o­cal state­ment sup­port­ing repro­duc­tive rights. He told the audi­ence: “I will sup­port and pro­tect repro­duc­tive free­dom and I will sup­port expand­ing access to those who need it because of what is hap­pen­ing across the country.”

When asked about the Legislature’s response to the 2021 Blake deci­sion by the State Supreme Court, both can­di­dates were crit­i­cal. In this deci­sion, the State Supreme Court struck down a law that made drug pos­ses­sion a felony, there­by void­ing most drug pos­ses­sion cas­es in Wash­ing­ton. The Leg­is­la­ture respond­ed by pass­ing a new law mak­ing drug pos­ses­sion a misdemeanor.

Richards said: “The Leg­is­la­ture basi­cal­ly punt­ed on how to han­dle the sub­stance abuse cri­sis in our state” and called for increased fund­ing to sup­port those expe­ri­ence sub­stance abuse or men­tal-health cri­sis… Right now, sim­ply hand­ing out cards to peo­ple who are deal­ing with sub­stance abuse is not effective.”

Hutchins argued that the Leg­is­la­ture did not punt and instead “the Leg­is­la­ture drilled into some very, very unwise pol­i­cy. It took all the teeth out of our drug laws.” He argued this is a mat­ter in which bad pol­i­cy needs to be reversed.

On an addi­tion­al ques­tion regard­ing the allowance of police pur­suits, for crimes such as car theft. Richards stat­ed that he “support[s] and will even spon­sor leg­is­la­tion to allow pur­suits, for car thefts for exam­ple, with­in reason.”

Hutchins echoed his ear­li­er com­ments regard­ing repeal­ing bad pol­i­cy stat­ing “we need to repeal the very very bad police pur­suit law.”

Anoth­er area of diver­gence between the can­di­dates was over what poli­cies they would sup­port to meet the state’s para­mount duty to pro­vide edu­ca­tion. Richards argued that the state needs to fun­da­men­tal­ly change its fund­ing mod­el to make it more fair. “We con­tin­ue to require the home­own­ers pay a large amount of prop­er­ty tax­es in order to try and keep up with the Mer­cer Islands of the world.”

Addi­tion­al­ly, Richards believes that more path­ways to trade schools need to be opened while address­ing the lack of col­lege affordability.

While he does not believe in elim­i­nat­ing col­lege tuition, he “believe[s] that you should be able to work through school again, like we used to.”

Hutchins agreed that the fund­ing of edu­ca­tion must fun­da­men­tal­ly change.

“We are rely­ing on local school dis­tricts to foot the gap, the bill, for the basics of edu­ca­tion out of bond and levy funds and that is wrong.”

He argued that the Leg­is­la­ture needs to pri­or­i­tize using gen­er­al fund dol­lars for edu­ca­tion needs — though most of the gen­er­al fund is already com­mit­ted to K‑12 schools and high­er edu­ca­tion and has been for a long time.

Through­out this debate, the can­di­dates showed that although they share many sim­i­lar­i­ties, their val­ues and prin­ci­ples differ.

While Hutchins con­sis­tent­ly railed against the Leg­is­la­ture, Richards empha­sized how through effec­tive, strong rep­re­sen­ta­tion, the com­mu­ni­ties in the 26th Dis­trict can work with the State Leg­is­la­ture to meet their com­mu­ni­ty’s needs.

The elec­tion for this posi­tion will con­clude in less than two months, on Tues­day, Novem­ber 8th. This will be one of the most com­pet­i­tive races in the state, giv­en the dis­tric­t’s almost even­ly divid­ed elec­torate and Richards’ vic­to­ry in the Top Two elec­tion, which is com­pelling evi­dence in sup­port of the argu­ment that the dis­trict is flip­pable for Democ­rats. If you would like to view a record­ing of the can­di­date forum, it’s avail­able to watch on demand from the Gig Har­bor Cham­ber.

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