NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, September 13th, 2022

26th District hopefuls Adison Richards and Spencer Hutchins square off in Gig Harbor

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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