Senator Emily Randall debates Republican challenger Representative Jesse Young
Senator Emily Randall debates Republican challenger Representative Jesse Young in Bremerton on October 15th (Photo: Aaron Cahen/NPI)

Washington’s 26th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict Sen­ate seat has oscil­lat­ed between Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans over the last two decades. This year, Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Emi­ly Ran­dall is try­ing to fend off a chal­lenge from Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jesse Young to win re-elec­­tion in what has become Washington’s most expen­sive leg­isla­tive race ever. Com­bined, the can­di­dates have raised over $1.4 mil­lion.

Ran­dall received a major­i­ty of the vote, 53.32%, to Young’s 42.6% in August’s Top Two elec­tion. A third can­di­date, Repub­li­can David Criss­man, was on the bal­lot and received 4.02% of the vote, result­ing in his elimination.

Washington’s new­ly redrawn 26th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict encom­pass­es por­tions of Kit­sap and Pierce Coun­ty, includ­ing Port Orchard and Bre­mer­ton to the North and Gig Har­bor to the South.

In the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate, the 26th is rep­re­sent­ed by Sen­a­tor Emi­ly Ran­dall, who defeat­ed Repub­li­can Mar­ty McClen­don to win the seat in 2018.

Ran­dall, a first term sen­a­tor, is being chal­lenged by Repub­li­can Jesse Young, who cur­rent­ly rep­re­sents the 26th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict in the Wash­ing­ton State House.

Rather than seek reelec­tion, Young is chal­leng­ing Sen­a­tor Ran­dall for the 26th’s State Sen­ate seat. Ran­dall and Young faced off at 3 PM on Sat­ur­day, Octo­ber 15th at Bremerton’s Norm Dicks Gov­ern­ment Center.

The Wash­ing­ton State Debate Coali­tion, pow­ered and orga­nized by Seat­tle City­Club, part­nered with Braver Angels to host the debate.

The debate orga­niz­ers sur­veyed vot­ers in the dis­trict with a ranked choice poll to iden­ti­fy the most impor­tant issues for res­i­dents this election.

The sur­vey iden­ti­fied, in order of impor­tance, infla­tion, crime, democ­ra­cy, and the envi­ron­ment as vot­ers’ top issues.

Once the issues were iden­ti­fied, the orga­niz­ers cre­at­ed a com­mit­tee, of equal parts Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans, that chose the debate questions.

While the can­di­dates were for the most part cor­dial dur­ing the debate, there were sev­er­al instances of sharp disagreement.

A sharply neg­a­tive tone was set by sup­port­ers of the Young cam­paign with the dis­tri­b­u­tion of a three-page doc­u­ment titled “Emi­ly Randall’s Actu­al Record,” pro­duced by Bethany Gray, Sec­re­tary of Sil­verdale Seabeck Repub­li­can Women.

In this doc­u­ment, Sen­a­tor Ran­dall is accused of being a “rad­i­cal activist who has used her posi­tion in the leg­is­la­ture to push her “pro­gres­sive” pro-abo­­tion, LGBTQ sex­u­al agen­da and hate­ful race the­o­ries on to us.”

Based on a coin toss, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Young gave the first open­ing state­ment. Young spoke about his expe­ri­ence of grow­ing up home­less and it moti­vat­ed him to work hard for his fam­i­ly and to enter politics.

“When I chose to come to pol­i­tics it was derived from the notion that maybe I could offer my skill set to not only do that for my fam­i­ly but to also pro­vide that skills and hard work for you so that you and your child might nev­er know that type of fear.” He fin­ished by telling the audi­ence he is run­ning for Sen­ate as he feels that the levers there will allow him to con­tin­ue serv­ing them.

Sen­a­tor Randall’s open­ing state­ment cen­tered on grow­ing up in the Dis­trict and how those val­ues have shaped her work in the Senate.

“I bring with me the sto­ries of my grand­par­ents who chose Kit­sap to raise their families…who chose this place to find eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty… grand­par­ents who served in the fire depart­ment and the Depart­ment of Defense, and the teacher and edu­ca­tors who instilled in me a desire to give back, to open door­ways for folks wider.” She end­ed by ref­er­enc­ing the sto­ries she takes to Olympia with her, includ­ing the sto­ry of “[her] sis­ter who had com­plex dis­abil­i­ties that has fueled my desire to fight for uni­ver­sal healthcare.”

Inflation and cost of living

The first ques­tion posed to the can­di­dates con­cerned how they planned to help fam­i­lies absorb the ris­ing cost of living.

Sen­a­tor Ran­dall argued the need for a broad array of solu­tions and cit­ed her work in the State Senate.

“We need a lot of solu­tions to make sure we are pro­vid­ing the sup­port that fam­i­lies need to thrive. One of the poli­cies that we have already passed, and just final­ly fund­ed this year, is the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Tax Cred­it.” She empha­sized that peo­ple should not have to choose between pay­ing for med­i­cine or food.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Young respond­ed “that it is real­ly quite sim­ple, I would move to repeal the impend­ing 45 cent, 46 cent, per gal­lon gas tax that’s com­ing in Jan­u­ary. Our work­ing class fam­i­lies should not have to absorb that…we should nev­er put that type of tax bur­den on the strug­gling work­ing class econ­o­my.” He added that he would imme­di­ate­ly move to “repeal 15% of the 68 new tax­es that were passed by the major­i­ty par­ty and my opponent.”

The mod­er­a­tor fol­lowed up by ask­ing Sen­a­tor Ran­dall if she agreed with the gas tax specif­i­cal­ly. The Sen­a­tor explained that Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Young is actu­al­ly talk­ing about Washington’s pol­lu­­tion-com­­bat­ing cap and invest ini­tia­tive and that the price at the pump is just a projection.

She expand­ed that “we need to do a lot of work to make sure that fam­i­lies can afford to get to work to get to their school…but we also need to make sure that we are pre­serv­ing our envi­ron­ment, I hear that loud and clear from neighbors.”

The sec­ond ques­tion asked the can­di­dates for an idea on how to struc­tural­ly reform either state tax pol­i­cy or state gov­ern­ment pro­grams to ensure that res­i­dents feel opti­mistic about their finan­cial future.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Young answered first this time.

“The first thing I would do is I would imme­di­ate­ly stand against all the lobby[ing] efforts that hap­pen down in Olympia, that put rules around how our mon­ey is spent… We need to stand against that… for the rur­al deliv­ery so that peo­ple out here can trust that the resources that we fund… can actu­al­ly be spent in a way that you and your fam­i­lies will ben­e­fit from.”

Young end­ed his answer by try­ing to get in a dig at Ran­dall, alleg­ing: “I would note that on both the pre­vi­ous two ques­tions she did not answer.”

Ran­dall agreed with Young that it is impor­tant to have a voice stand­ing against Seat­tle pol­i­tics, par­tic­u­lar­ly in a lead­er­ship posi­tion. “It is impor­tant for that voice to be in major­i­ty cau­cus lead­er­ship. As one of the few mem­bers of our lead­er­ship team who rep­re­sents a dis­trict out­side of Seat­tle, I get to bring the voic­es of our com­mu­ni­ty into lead­er­ship con­ver­sa­tions, into pri­or­i­ty set­tings… mak­ing sure that our cau­cus takes into account how poli­cies will impact com­mu­ni­ties like ours.”

(For the record, Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Andy Bil­lig is from Spokane and Deputy Major­i­ty Leader Man­ka Dhin­gra is from Red­mond. Deputy Major­i­ty Leader Rebec­ca Sal­dana and Floor Leader Jamie Ped­er­sen are from Seattle.)

In a fol­low-up ques­tion about the restric­tions placed on resources, Young explained that “when you put those types of den­si­ty con­di­tion­als on the release of mon­ey, it makes it extreme­ly hard for a rur­al set­ting provider to meet that den­si­ty conditional….and they can’t have access to the money.”

Young charged that Ran­dall had not done any­thing to address this issue of con­di­tion­al fund­ing, despite many con­ver­sa­tions amongst rur­al legislators.

Sen­a­tor Ran­dall defend­ed her­self by cit­ing a bill that she passed last year that “would have expand­ed tax incen­tives to build more man­u­fac­tur­ing facil­i­ties, more ware­house facil­i­ties here…the gov­er­nor vetoed large por­tions of that bill that had passed unan­i­mous­ly through the Sen­ate and I am pre­pared to go back next leg­isla­tive ses­sion to have a veto proof major­i­ty over­ride that veto.”


Crime was the num­ber two issue in the sur­vey results.

The first ques­tion posed to the can­di­dates asked how, in light of the Blake deci­sion, drug users can still be held account­able when com­ing into con­tact with law enforce­ment and be direct­ed to treat­ment or men­tal health services.

Ran­dall answered first, explain­ing that the Blake deci­sion occurred dur­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion and forced the leg­is­la­tors to scram­ble to see what could be passed. “What we passed was a Band-Aid, frankly, a tem­po­rary two year pol­i­cy that we knew we’d have to come back and fix… I can tell you it hasn’t been work­ing.” She fur­ther explained that based on her con­ver­sa­tions with first respon­ders and law enforce­ment, “What we need is a lit­tle more pow­er to push folks into treat­ment… to ensure that we are track­ing across jurisdictions.”

Young respond­ed that the Blake deci­sion was based upon the def­i­n­i­tion of a word, and that he had spon­sored leg­is­la­tion to rede­fine the def­i­n­i­tion and bring the law back to where it was before the decision.

“We could have gone back to what was, and then we could have worked to make things bet­ter but instead we got a rad­i­cal new agen­da that defund­ed our police.” Young fin­ished his response by argu­ing that Democ­rats used the Blake Deci­sion to “push a rad­i­cal agen­da and now our kids are pay­ing the price.”

The two can­di­dates end­ed the ques­tion with a back-and-forth over whether the votes “were there” to pass the leg­is­la­tion Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Young referenced.

While Ran­dall cit­ed her expe­ri­ence as the Major­i­ty Whip to explain that she knew her col­leagues did not sup­port the leg­is­la­tion, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Young argued that she is unwill­ing to vote against her par­ty when the leg­is­la­tion harms the district.

The final “crime” ques­tion focused on the police pur­suit bill, and asked what changes the can­di­dates would sup­port in the upcom­ing debate over law enforcement’s abil­i­ty to pur­sue some­one sus­pect­ed of a crime.

Young went first and stat­ed: “I would imme­di­ate­ly move to repeal the bill the pro­hib­it­ed pursuit…that bill was 5919 and as I just not­ed, it passed off the Sen­ate, Sen­a­tor Ran­dall was a spon­sor of it, it came to the House and we passed it off bipar­ti­san­ly… and with two days left to go in ses­sion… she took….an unex­cused absence.” Young spent the rest of his answer focus­ing on Sen­a­tor Randall’s deci­sion to take an unex­cused absence.

Ran­dall respond­ed “I am proud to be endorsed by our Kit­sap Coun­ty Sher­iff… and been on count­less ride-a-longs… try­ing to best under­stand what the tools are that we need to address ris­ing crime… I do think we need to make sure that law enforce­ment has tools to pur­sue those who are dan­ger­ous. The rea­son I sup­port­ed the first repeal of high speed chas­es is because the data shows us that more often than not that they lead to bystander deaths. Like the deaths of two of my col­leagues’ par­ents.” Ran­dall went on to reem­pha­size that the votes did not exist with­in her cau­cus to pass Bill 5919.

When asked to respond to the accu­sa­tion that she was not avail­able to take the vote, the Sen­a­tor explained that this was not a reg­u­lar bill pas­sage. It was a “ninth order motion which is where the minor­i­ty par­ty tries to take over the floor and force their own agen­da. I don’t believe we should give the pow­er of floor leader to the minor­i­ty cau­cus’ floor leader… there are orders to things and tak­ing over the floor of the Sen­ate is not some­thing that I believe is good pub­lic policy.”


The first ques­tion post­ed to the can­di­dates in this seg­ment focused on per­son­al free­dom, par­tic­u­lar­ly around health choic­es. The can­di­dates were asked what role the leg­is­la­ture should have in reg­u­lat­ing indi­vid­ual health decisions.

Ran­dall, speak­ing first, offered a stal­wart defense of repro­duc­tive freedom.

“I have had over 2000 con­ver­sa­tions with neigh­bors and almost every oth­er one is about repro­duc­tive rights and free­dom and the fear that, with the fed­er­al Supreme Court’s deci­sion to over­turn Roe, that we will lose that free­dom to choose… I think it’s piv­otal that we con­tin­ue to have a legal land­scape that pro­tects indi­vid­ual free­dom to choose to access abortion.”

In his response, Young focused on indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty and his oppo­si­tion to the governor’s COVID man­dates. “Indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty is the foun­da­tion of our demo­c­ra­t­ic repub­lic… I’m proud to have con­sis­tent­ly carved out a rep­u­ta­tion, vot­ing against my par­ty a num­ber of times… join­ing the Democ­rats to stand up for indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty.” He said that the governor’s orders “ripped fam­i­lies apart when they want­ed to take care of their loved one…he took away those indi­vid­ual rights and Sen­a­tor Ran­dall vot­ed to remove leg­isla­tive oversight.”

In a fol­low up ques­tion, Sen­a­tor Ran­dall was asked to address the governor’s safe­ty pre­cau­tions and the length for which they were left in place.

“I think ensur­ing that our com­mu­ni­ty is safe and healthy def­i­nite­ly has to be on the fore­front of every legislator’s mind but I also co-spon­­sored leg­is­la­tion to bring checks and bal­ances on the governor’s emer­gency pow­ers in line with what many oth­er states have… For a num­ber of rea­sons, the House killed the bill.”

Fur­ther­more, respond­ing to Young’s asser­tion that he stands up for indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty, Ran­dall point­ed out that “he has intro­duced leg­is­la­tion that would make abor­tion a felony and he did not go vote for paid med­ical fam­i­ly leave.”

Young argued back that “the bill that I have spon­sored bans late-term and post-birth abor­tions, that’s the bill that I wrote this year… I wrote that bill because I sup­port life.” Young went on to lament that this issue is divid­ing the coun­try as “we used to be able to dis­agree or agree to dis­agree on being pro-life or pro-choice…my bill pro­tects against the sell­ing of baby parts, post term abortion…and she sup­ports those. ”

Ran­dall fired back that she “sup­ports the right of an indi­vid­ual to choose abor­tion when it is the right choice for them. I believe that Roe should con­tin­ue to be the law and that Wash­ing­ton State’s pro­tec­tions should con­tin­ue to exist…and while Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Young did intro­duce the ver­sion of that bill this year he has been in office many years and has his name on many abor­tion bans includ­ing a full scale abor­tion ban that makes access to an abor­tion a felony.”

The last ques­tion under Democ­ra­cy asked the can­di­dates for one spe­cif­ic posi­tion they can agree with their oppo­nent, or their par­ty, on.

Young  spoke about his pride in hav­ing bipar­ti­san sup­port for many of his bill “I have worked hard to keep that promise that I made when I came into office that I would work across the aisle.”

He cit­ed two bills of his that were passed, one of which released men­tal health funds and anoth­er that expand­ed health­care options to vet­er­ans. “This is a vet­er­an serv­ing dis­trict, I pledge to stand up for vet­er­an rights.”

Ran­dall spoke about how she is proud to have worked across the aisle on many pol­i­cy areas as well, “includ­ing with the Repub­li­can Sen­ate Minor­i­ty leader…on dis­abil­i­ty rights issues. We have worked togeth­er to final­ly make some progress in what is called the ‘No Paid Ser­vices Case Load’…there are thou­sands upon thou­sands of fam­i­lies with chil­dren who have dis­abil­i­ties who are wait­ing to find support…because the state hasn’t ful­ly fund­ed these supports.”


The final issue area was the envi­ron­ment. The first ques­tion focused on the Governor’s inten­tion to ban the sale of new gas pow­ered vehi­cles by 2035.

The can­di­dates were asked if they sup­port­ed these efforts and how the leg­is­la­ture should respond to increased infra­struc­ture needs due to increased elec­tric vehi­cle usage.

Sen­a­tor Ran­dall empha­sized the need to strike a bal­ance that pro­tects the envi­ron­ment and fam­i­lies’ eco­nom­ic health. “I think it is our respon­si­bil­i­ty to plan for the future.. I admit I dri­ve a 1997 Ford Ranger pick up truck that is gas powered….and I would love an elec­tric but that’s the vehi­cle my fam­i­ly could afford.” She explained that many fam­i­lies that she speaks to feel sim­i­lar­ly — they may want an elec­tric vehi­cle or more effi­cient vehi­cle, but they can­not afford it.

Addi­tion­al­ly, “the Governor’s goal is a goal…if we are going to work towards an envi­ron­ment where we are rely­ing on elec­tric cars…then we do need to focus on infra­struc­ture and not just charg­ing facil­i­ties but also a more resilient grid.”

Young agreed with Ran­dall that the grid must be rein­forced and stat­ed that when it comes to gas-pow­ered vehi­cles he has led on this issue. A key part of the governor’s agen­da is a bill that “I bipar­ti­san [sic] wrote with Demo­c­rat [sic] Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Peter­son to build out all of the elec­tri­cal grid infrastructure….I did that with­out rais­ing your taxes.”

He went on to attack the Sen­a­tor and Democ­rats argu­ing that while they “sup­port sub­si­dies and bans that affect you…I pre­fer free mar­ket solutions.”

The final ques­tion cen­tered on bal­anc­ing the use of hydro­elec­tric pow­er gen­er­at­ing dams with the envi­ron­men­tal impacts on the Puget Sound, par­tic­u­lar­ly around the health of crit­i­cal salmon populations.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Young argued that “I have actu­al­ly been on the fore­front of this…and I can tell you that there is only one region­al ener­gy grid in the coun­try that is ahead of the curve, and it’s ours…if we were to get rid of the Snake Riv­er dams…we would tank our grid. If you remove those dams… you are not only hurt­ing the entire West Coast… you’re doom­ing the low and mid­dle class to sky­rock­et­ing, 60% rise…in the cost of heat­ing or cool­ing your home”

Ran­dall said that she and Young were aligned on this issue.

“Our grid needs more invest­ments to be resilient, to make sure we can keep low rates… and it is true… that our pow­er is clean­er and more reli­able than so many oth­er places.” She also empha­sized the need to invest in high­er edu­ca­tion so that we can con­tin­ue to inno­vate new solu­tions and for this and oth­er issues.

Both can­di­dates were pushed in a fol­low-up to address the issue of crit­i­cal salmon populations.

Young said “we have both seen stud­ies that show the tech­nol­o­gy advancements…that are also sup­port­ed by our trib­al com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers… that tech­nol­o­gy is there and that’s what we should invest in… I would vote to imme­di­ate­ly start line-item­ing mon­ey into the reconstruction…of that technology.”

Ran­dall stat­ed “I am inter­est­ed and open to solu­tions to make our dams more resilient and salmon friendly…I also think that we need to be focus­ing on addi­tion­al tools for our salmon and ecosys­tem health… we are fund­ing the state-fund­ed ones but there are coun­ty and city owned cul­verts that also need atten­tion. We have to be invest­ing in our salmon, they are a canary in our ecosystem’s coal mine… and if we are not ensur­ing that our envi­ron­ment is cared for for the next gen­er­a­tion and the next gen­er­a­tion then we have a lot less hope.”

Closing statements

The debate closed with both can­di­dates pro­vid­ing a clos­ing statement.

Sen­a­tor Ran­dall empha­sized that elec­tions are about choic­es and who aligns with oyur val­ues. “I’m the only pro-choice can­di­date in the race. I will fight to ensure that our free­dom to choose abor­tion is protected.”

“I have worked to expand access to democ­ra­cy, to cre­ate more bal­lot box access…and Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Young has co-spon­­sored, at the very least, leg­is­la­tion to repeal mail-in vot­ing and flew to Ari­zona to take part in the audit.”

She closed by emphat­i­cal­ly stat­ing she would fight for the community’s needs, to fight for expand­ed health care, and to fight for invest­ment in education.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Young described the elec­tion as one about choic­es as well.

“This is an elec­tion about choos­ing between hope and fear… as I have knocked on 40,000 doors this elec­tion cycle, I have nev­er seen this omi­nous cloud of fear hov­er over the con­stituents I have been elect­ed to serve.”

He closed by say­ing that rather than keep­ing his safe house seat, he is run­ning to restore con­stituents’ hope for the future.

The elec­tion for this posi­tion will come to a close in a few weeks, on Tues­day, Novem­ber 8th. This week­end marks the begin­ning of the eigh­teen day vot­ing peri­od in Pierce and Kit­sap coun­ties, as well as the rest of the state.

If you would like to view a record­ing of the debate, it’s avail­able to watch here.

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