State Senate candidates talk public safety, transportation and more
Emily Randall and Jesse Young don’t agree on much. But both said Thursday that the state’s laws on drug possession and police pursuits need to be changed.
Young, a Republican state representative from Gig Harbor, is challenging Randall, a first-term Democrat from Bremerton, for the state Senate seat representing the 26th Legislative District. They discussed issues of public safety, transportation, reproductive health and education on Thursday, Sept. 22, as part of the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s Public Affairs Forum series.
Candidates were asked about the Legislature’s response to a Supreme Court ruling known as the Blake decision, and restrictions on law enforcement pursuing criminal suspects.
The Blake decision struck down a law making it a felony to possess illegal drugs, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Law enforcement leaders have criticized the 2021 Legislature’s response to Blake as effectively legalizing drug possession.
Meanwhile, legislation approved in 2021, in the aftermath of widespread protests following the death of George Floyd, restricts law enforcement’s ability to pursue suspects fleeing in a vehicle.
Young said these and other reforms targeted at public safety have created an atmosphere in which people do not feel safe.
“I ran because I wanted my kids to have an opportunity,” Young said. “And folks, if we don’t have law and order in this country, if we don’t have safety, opportunity will dwindle for our children.”
Young added that even when he was experiencing homelessness as a child in Tacoma, he never felt as unsafe as he does now, for himself and for his family.
Randall acknowledged that the “police accountability measures we passed in 2021 in response to national and local uprisings” have been problematic and “were a challenge to implement. And the one-size-fits-all measure didn’t take into account some of the nuances that some of our communities and our law enforcement officers are facing.”
She called the Legislature’s response to the Blake decision a “Band-Aid” applied after drug laws were thrown out with “no warning to legislators.” She said a number of task forces and groups are working on devising longer-term solutions.
“I look forward to finding a solution next session that certainly treats substance-use disorder like a public health crisis,” she said, “but also has real accountability … so our officers are not dealing with the same folks over and over again.”
Randall highlighted school districts’ “huge, unmet needs” for more paraeducators and substitute teachers. She said one of her top goals for the 2022 session would be reforming the state’s special education funding formula.
“We have work to do to ensure that every student can thrive in our public education system,” Randall said. “These last few years have been really hard on students, educators and on families.”
Young said schools need to work harder to encourage parents to be involved in their children’s education. He cited studies showing that parent involvement is the best indicator of student success.
The nine-year state representative said his top education priority would be promoting “school choice.” The phrase refers to allowing families to use public education funds to send children to any school they choose — whether that be a public school or a private one.
“Parents deserve a choice, children deserve a choice and, you know what? Teachers deserve a choice, too,” Young said. “Now, there’s a role for the public education system, but we need to be allowing the dollars to start to follow the children so parents have a real choice for how and where their children are educated. If you do that, you’ll see the market respond with a variety of options for parents.”
Young promised to advocate for reducing gas taxes. He argued that the state’s transportation priorities should focus on roads.
“Unfortunately, under the budgets that Sen. Randall is voting on, you’re getting more bike pathways and walkways than you are roads,” Young said.
He used the highway bottleneck at Gorst, between Bremerton and Port Orchard in Kitsap County, as an example of the need for expanded roadway capacity.
The 2022 Legislature allocated almost $75 million toward Highway 3 in Gorst. But the money is for preliminary steps like property acquisition and planning, not construction.
“Sen. Randall said we needed a 16-year study before we could even begin to consider fixing Gorst,” Young said.
Randall said the 16-year time frame is typical for projects of this scale.
“Every transportation package … is 15 or 16 years. That’s how we have done it in the Legislature,” she said.
Randall also pointed out that Gorst is a sensitive area with environmental, geological and possible archeological issues to work through.
“While it is for study and planning and land acquisition, those are important first steps,” she said.
Both candidates made clear statements of their stance on abortion rights.
Randall identified herself as pro-choice, Young as pro-life.
“I believe each of us deserves the freedom to make the decisions that are right for ourselves about when and how to plan our families,” Randall said. “I don’t believe that the government has a role in family planning.”
Young identified himself as “pro-life. Period.” But he also identified as a believer in individual liberty.
He used the opportunity to pivot to a criticism of Covid-19 vaccine mandates.
He said Randall and Gov. Jay Inslee “forced health care decisions upon every one of you during the Covid crisis that we had. So apparently it’s OK for you to make your own decisions on health care as long as you agree with her.”
The 26th Legislative District includes all of Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula in addition to Port Orchard, South Kitsap County and parts of Bremerton.
Randall and Young advanced to the Nov. 8 general election by finishing first and second in the Aug. 2 primary. They were the only two candidates to actively campaign for the seat.
Randall earned 51.52 percent of the vote in the primary. Young earned 44.36 percent. A third candidate, David Crissman, earned 4.05 percent of the vote despite not campaigning.
The Pierce County Auditor’s Office will mail general election ballots by Oct. 21.