With more than $700,000 already spent in the race ahead of the primary next Tuesday, the contest for the 26th Legislative District Senate seat, which covers Bremerton and Gig Harbor, looks like a nail-biter in the making. Democratic incumbent Senator Emily Randall won the district by just 108 votes during 2018’s blue wave, and predictions of a red wave midterm election in the fall have many pundits forecasting an even tougher fight for Randall this time around.
Despite those national headwinds, Randall rejects the doom and gloom predictions. Given her Republican opponent’s unapologetic fervor for the national GOP’s most unpopular positions, she may have more of a fighting chance than those pundits seem to think.
Randall believes her authenticity and her record of delivering for her district over the last four years will help shield her from misleading GOP attack ads. She also thinks her campaign’s emphasis on knocking doors will help carry the day. So far, she says her team has knocked more than 10,000 of them since the end of the legislative session in March.
On Saturday afternoon, I tagged along with Randall as she canvassed her Bremerton neighborhood. At the doors, Randall frequently ticked off several hyperlocal investments she secured in the state budget. She often touted $75 million in investments to address traffic congestion around the district’s shipyard, and she rattled off a list of tax breaks for working people whenever a voter brought up concerns about inflation.
On the authenticity front, Randall employed a tactic I’d never seen from a political candidate. She left hand-written notes on unanswered doors that included her personal cell phone number and an invitation for the voter to call or text her with questions about her record when filling out their ballot. She said people told her they appreciated the personal touch, and she interrupted our interview at one point to respond to a text from one voter she’d never met asking to volunteer for the campaign.
The contrast between Randall and Jesse Young, the incumbent 26th LD State Representative looking for a promotion to the Senate, convinced one Randall volunteer I spoke with to knock doors for the first time in his life. Speaking with a tone of exasperation, Liam Jones told me that “everything going on” in the country convinced him to get off the couch and “do more than vote.”
He thinks the GOP stands for “less democracy,” and that concern drove him to meet Randall at a local outreach event, where he said she won him over with a pitch to invest his time in a race where every vote will matter, which sounded better to him than screaming into the void about Congress’ failures.
Normally, holding a state legislative candidate responsible for the lunatic fringe of their national party would be a bit of a stretch. But in Young, Jones found the exception that proves the rule. In June of 2021, Young joined several of his fellow Republicans on a trip to tour the ‘audit’ of ballots cast in Maricopa County, Arizona. That audit, which was conducted by a company called Cyber Ninjas, was so “successful” that the company shut down in January after an Arizona judge held them in contempt of court.
Young’s stand for “less democracy” goes further than amplifying baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election. He’s also sponsored a bill to end mail-in voting in Washington, due to what the bill’s text calls “credible allegations of voter fraud, ballot tampering, and foreign interference in elections.”
While the bill never received a hearing where Young could have presented those allegations, the losing GOP nominee for Governor in 2020, Loren Culp, withdrew a lawsuit that made similar accusations after his attorney faced a threat of legal sanctions for failing to produce evidence to support their claims of fraud.
Perpetuating election conspiracy theories isn’t the only item that Young has ordered off the national GOP’s extremist policy menu. He has also sponsored a so-called “heartbeat bill” that would ban all abortion after 15 weeks or the detection of a fetal “heartbeat,” with no exception for cases of rape or incest. Even if a red wave swamps the State Legislature, Governor Inslee’s full-throated support of abortion rights leaves little doubt that he’d veto such a bill if it ever passed. But staking out such an extreme position on abortion may cost Young the support of swing voters he’ll need to unseat Randall.
In fact, one 72-year-old white man I watched Randall try to win over on his porch said almost exactly that. Though he didn’t mention Young by name, he called the national GOP’s anti-abortion rhetoric “a load of crap” after Randall announced her unequivocal support for abortion rights. He proudly informed her that he considers himself “nonpartisan,” but admitted that the assault on bodily autonomy led him to vote “nearly all for the Democrats” in the last few elections.
I wrote to Young’s campaign for comment about those positions, but I have not heard back. I’ll update this story if they respond.
Of all the reasons Young might struggle to ride the red wave year, his track record of bratty behavior in Olympia might be the most damaging. In their endorsement of Randall as the “only viable option,” the Tacoma News-Tribune pointed to Young’s “troubling history” in the Legislature and called him “unfit to lead.”
That history began in 2017, when he lost the privilege of operating a district office and supervising a legislative assistant. That year, the House’s lawyer found several allegations of Young mistreating legislative staff to be “credible and serious.” The letter informing Young of the disciplinary action said he could regain staff privileges if he completed an anger management program, a management training program, and respectful workplace training.
Young’s campaign did not respond when I asked if he completed those programs. At the time of the incidents, he told the Tacoma News-Tribune that he hadn’t done so because he didn’t have any “anger problems.” According to Bernard Dean, Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives, Young currently does not have a legislative assistant and is not being reimbursed for a district office.
So one week from today, the good people of the Washington’s 26th will weigh in on whether they want to return a pro-choice supporter of democracy to Olympia, or saddle the Senate with an apparently stubborn lawmaker who wants to ban abortion and undermine confidence in our elections.