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 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.”
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.