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.