Community Government

Two key moments from the Key Peninsula candidate forum

Posted on October 12th, 2022 By:

Near the end of a candidate forum held Tuesday evening in Vaughn, state Rep. Jesse Young told the audience about text messages he received earlier that night. 

Young said the messages indicated that his opponent, state Sen. Emily Randall, supports law enforcement. They presumably came from her campaign.

Young began to argue otherwise. 

But at the beginning of the night, organizers of the debate asked candidates to limit their comments to their own views and plans. Candidates were instructed to not discuss their opponents. 

The Key Peninsula Civic Center, which organized the event, didn’t want candidates going negative on one another. Forum participants were warned that the moderator would take the microphone away from any candidate who violated the rule. 

Young, R-Gig Harbor, continued talking over the objections of debate organizers and many in the crowd. His supporters in the audience applauded and roared approval. The moderator approached, holding out a hand to retrieve the microphone. 

“No, I’m not giving up the mic,” Young said, his voice rising. “You don’t have the right to take the mic.” 

The moderator allowed Young to finish his statement.

Candidates in this fall’s election at a forum on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at the Key Peninsula Civic Center. They are, from left, Pierce County Council candidates Paula Lonergan and Robyn Denson; Pierce County Auditor candidate Deryl McCarty; 26th Legislative District House candidates Matt Macklin, Michelle Caldier, Adison Richards and Spencer Hutchins; and 26th District Senate candidates Jesse Young and Emily Randall.

Forum otherwise was cordial

It was a moment of tension in an otherwise cordial forum. 

Earlier in the debate, Randall emphasized the time she has spent riding along with law enforcement officers in the 26th Legislative District and hearing their concerns. The Bremerton Democrat stressed the importance of crime prevention efforts, including crisis intervention and stepped-up treatment for people experiencing substance abuse and mental health issues. 

“We have a challenge that we are not currently able to solve without drug treatment and mental health treatment,” Randall said. 

Randall is in her first term in the state Senate representing the 26th District, which includes Gig Harbor, the Key Peninsula, southern Kitsap County and parts of Bremerton. 

Young is giving up the seat in the state House he has held for nine years to challenge Randall. He has made crime the centerpiece of his campaign, and said Tuesday that “fear” — of crime and inflation — is the top issue in the election.

Republican candidate criticizes his own party

On the opposite end of the campaign-strife scale were the two candidates running to replace Young in the House.

The contest between Republican Spencer Hutchins and Democrat Adison Richards has been marked by civility and respect.

Hutchins told a Gig Harbor Chamber forum recently that the two have become “buddies” during the campaign. A recent Peninsula Gateway story focused on the opposing candidates’ friendship in spite of their campaign rivalry.

Hutchins took things a step further on Tuesday, criticizing his own party over campaign literature sent to 26th District voters.

“My party put out two very negative hit pieces on him that I think were unfair,” Hutchins said, adding that the two “parties have gotten away from talking to each other.”

Hutchins didn’t elaborate on what campaign mailers he was referring to. But 26th District voters received mailers this week calling Richards “too extreme” on crime and abortion.

Richards added some humor to the proceedings by beginning his opening statement with: “I’m still not over that Mariners game,” before explaining that his top issues if elected would be public safety and the economy.

The Mariners lost to the Houston Astros, 8-7, on a 3-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning earlier in the day.

Candidate statements on public safety

The forum at the Key Peninsula Civic Center in Vaughn featured candidates for all three 26th Legislative District seats (Randall vs. Young in the Senate, Hutchins vs. Richards for one House seat, and incumbent Republican Michelle Caldier vs. Democrat Matt Macklin for the other). Pierce County Council candidates Robyn Denson, a Gig Harbor Democrat, and Paula Lonergan, a Tacoma Republican, also answered questions.

With so many candidates, the audience had time to ask only a handful of questions during the two-hour forum. Two of the audience questions pertained to crime and public safety. Candidates’ responses to those questions are quoted or summarized below.

Pierce County Council, District 7 

Paula Lonergan: “Somehow, we need to convince people that working in law enforcement is an honorable thing to do,” Lonergan said, citing reports of officers leaving the profession following protests and police reform efforts. She added that “we need to undo the damage that was done by our state Legislature.

Robyn Denson: “We’ve had the same basic coverage of sheriff’s deputies (on the west side of the Narrows Bridge) for decades, which is typically two. And you know how much we’ve grown in that time.” She called for working with “community partners” to augment Pierce County Sheriff’s Office patrols in the area and lauded raises given to deputies in a new labor contract approved this year by the Pierce County Council. 

26th District Senate 

Sen. Emily Randall: “We need law enforcement to respond (when a crime happens), but we also need to prevent crime in our community” through better addiction and mental health treatment and crisis intervention techniques. She said a local law enforcement leader told her recently that “we’ve been under-funding mental health so long that we (law enforcement) are the last ones standing.”

Rep. Jesse Young: He promised to “listen to police and immediately restore their ability to pursue and arrest criminals. I would make hard drugs illegal again.” He said to improve morale among law enforcement, the Legislature should “give them the tools they need to do their job.”

26th District House Position 1 

Spencer Hutchins: He said “reckless policies” of recent Legislatures must be repealed. “It is obvious that what is causing morale to plummet is being told to do a job but not being given the tools to do it.”

Adison Richards: He emphasized his work representing domestic violence victims as an attorney. Like other Democrats on Tuesday, he also discussed the need to boost treatment options. “We need to do better than treating mental health and substance abuse crises with jail cells and emergency rooms.”

26th District House Position 2 

Michelle Caldier: “There must be consequences again. It’s more than just funding. We need to start respecting and saying thank you to our law enforcement again.” She said police reform efforts caused “unintended consequences,” and “I voted no, because I listened to law enforcement.”

Matt Macklin: “The biggest problem we have is a capacity problem. We can incarcerate and arrest all we want, but we wouldn’t have the capacity (in jails and prisons) for them. Sometimes these individuals have true addiction issues. We need to get to the root of that issue, too, because that’s half the problem.”