In a political era often characterized by name-calling and personal attacks, the debate between 26th Legislative District candidates of opposite parties Thursday morning was notable for its collegiality.
Republican Spencer Hutchins and Democrat Adison Richards debated during the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s Public Affairs Forum. Nobody called anybody else a fascist or demanded that anybody be “locked up.”
Quite the opposite.
“He and I have become buddies over the course of this campaign,” Hutchins said. “Frankly, I find that bracing and refreshing. I think that’s what our politics need.”
Richards referred to himself as a moderate. He said that if elected “I want to work with people on both sides of the aisle to find solutions that are going to serve this community.”
An audience member asked which historical political figures they would model their careers after. Both candidates reached across the partisan divide.
Democrat Richards picked Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president. Republican Hutchins cited the partnership of Republican President Ronald Reagan and former Democratic U.S. House speaker Tip O’Neill, who forged a strong working relationship in the 1980s.
Democrat Adison Richards, left, and Republican Spencer Hutchins, right, are candidates for a 26th Legislative District House seat. They spoke at the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s Public Affairs Forum on Thursday.
The two candidates have much in common. Both are lawyers who live in the Gig Harbor area and attended local schools. Richards is a Peninsula High graduate, Hutchins a Gig Harbor High graduate. Both have been active in many local civic groups.
Hutchins served on the Gig Harbor City Council from 2017 to 2019. Richards is making his first run for public office.
They are running for the 26th District House seat being vacated by Republican Jesse Young, who is running for state Senate. The general election is Nov. 8.
Both candidates identified public safety and helping small businesses as among their top priorities.
“I was just talking to a small business owner on the Key Peninsula who owns an auto repair shop. He hasn’t gotten a full night’s sleep in a couple years,” Richards said. “He’s always getting woken up in the middle of the night with the alarm going off.”
The business owner reported “having to be his own cop,” Richards said.
Hutchins agreed that crime is a significant issue for business owners as well as the public.
“When you have built into your budget the loss of product, the loss of productivity through theft, through vandalism, that then gets passed along to your customers,” Hutchins said. “You have a huge problem.”
Both candidates were critical of the Legislature’s response to a 2021 decision by the state Supreme Court. The so-called “Blake Decision” struck down a law making it a felony to possess illegal drugs, whether knowingly or unknowingly.
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The 2021 Legislature made possession of illegal drugs a misdemeanor. Some have argued that the Legislature could have brought the law into compliance merely by establishing that a suspect must “knowingly” possess illegal substances to be guilty of a felony.
“Olympia has created an environment in which lawlessness is rewarded and law enforcement is hampered,” Hutchins said.
“The Legislature basically punted on how to handle the substance-abuse crisis in our state,” Richards said, calling for increased funding for people experiencing a substance-abuse or mental-health crisis.
“The Legislature didn’t punt on drug laws, the Legislature drilled into some very, very unwise policy,” Hutchins said. “It took all the teeth out of our drug laws.”
Both candidates supported streamlining regulations on small businesses. The format of the debate provided little opportunity to expand on how to do that.
Richards called for “more harmony in our regulations” across jurisdictions and backed business and occupation tax reforms.
Hutchins said “the state of Washington treats businesses like a bottomless well of resources.” He said small business owners have told him they are “leaving the state of Washington because there are places that are more hospitable to them achieving their dreams.”
In response to an audience question, Hutchins referred to abortion rights as a settled issue for Washington voters. “I certainly intend as a legislator to respect the public process that went on many years ago” in Washington with respect to abortion rights, Hutchins said.
“I will support and protect reproductive freedom and I will support access for those (from out of state) who need it because of what is happening around the country,” Richards said.
Richards said he supports reproductive freedom and believes reproductive health should be an issue for patients and medical providers, not politicians.
Hutchins said he has “no reason to doubt the integrity of the Washington state voting system” and he sees no “major crisis in Washington state elections.”
Richards went out of his way to say that Hutchins acknowledges that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.
“The biggest threat to our voting system here in Washington state is people not believing their vote counts and leaving their ballot on the kitchen table,” Richards said.
Perhaps the biggest area of disagreement was in how we arrived at this point.
Richards pointed out that the 26th Legislative District hasn’t elected a Democrat to the House since Larry Seaquist in 2012. He pointed to worsening infrastructure as a reason to elect someone who can work with Democrats, who hold a majority in both houses of the Legislature.
We have been a district that has not been effectively represented for a long time,” Richards said. “Our voices are not being heard in Olympia. … I want to go into the majority caucus room and fight for this community.”
Hutchins instead blamed the majority Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee, whom Hutchins said has governed “by fiat.”
“We have spent generations of single-party rule in Olympia, with a few blips here and there of bipartisan coalition,” Hutchins said. “Incidentally, I think the blips of bipartisan coalition have resulted in some of the best government coming out of Olympia in my lifetime.”
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