PORT ORCHARD — Emily Randall knew one thing for certain after her hard-fought, grueling campaign to succeed Jan Angel as the 26th Legislative District’s state senator: she was made of tough stuff.
If she won the election, nothing in Olympia could be harder and more exhausting than experiencing an almost non-stop schedule of campaign appearances, tiring days and evenings of doorbelling throughout the partially rural district and endless, intense preparations with staff so she could hit the ground running if elected.
In a nail-biting, razer-thin general-election finish in November, Randall — a Port Orchard native and South Kitsap High School graduate — was declared the winner in her state Senate race against Republican Marty McClendon following a lengthy hand recount of votes that ultimately showed her winning by just 102 votes.
The district’s new state senator finished her first legislative session in January, and Randall said representing the 26th District so far has been everything she expected — not that she had any particular notions of what it would be like.
“It’s definitely the hardest, but most rewarding work I’ve ever had the chance to do,” she said in a June 19 interview with the Independent.
“I came to Olympia with not particularly solid expectations about what it was going to be like. Nothing really prepares you for the day-to-day legislating.”
But along with the invariable hard work in the Legislature was an unexpected sense of camaraderie and unified mission among elected members and their staffs to do what’s best for the state of Washington. It’s just mostly the “how-to” part that creates the headlines, the state senator said.
“My earliest surprise was how cordial and collegial the committee meetings were among members across parties,” Randall said, noting that each legislator made significant contributions, much as working group members do when tackling a group project in college or in business.
A whirlwind session
The pace of work in the Legislature, though, was an element that was predictably fast-paced, to say the least.
“That is one thing that campaigning, especially in our district, prepared me for. With an intense campaign, it prepared me for long hours and the intensity [of the process]. But it’s a new system to learn,” the new senator said.
As a newly elected official who has never before held office, her first experience in a legislative session was akin to learning via the proverbial “fire hose” treatment.
Randall said despite preparing as thoroughly as possible beforehand, much of her legislative tutorial was done in “learning by doing” fashion. And there was plenty to assimilate: “How the legislative process works and who your internal stakeholders are who help make decisions,” she said.
The Kitsap state senator was one of six new members — all additions to the Democratic caucus — to join the state Senate. Randall and the five other new legislators formed their own first-year caucus, which she said was particularly valuable in softening the learning curve for the new members.
“We really leaned on each other and were able to help each other figure things out much more quickly than [we could have] as one single member. We met regularly — most of us served on the Transportation [Committee] — so we had the chance to have a friend in navigating the system.”
Randall, who when elected became the youngest member of the legislative body, also said the newbie caucus shared another similarity.
“We all came from organizing backgrounds to some degree, and I think that brought the value of wanting to engage community members who had been left out of the process.,” she said.
Most of the drama and conflict picked up by the news media takes place on the floor of the Legislature, Randall surmised. “I talked about it with Congressman Kilmer about his experience both in Olympia and in the U.S. House,” and his conclusion that there is more bipartisanship work being done that is apparent.
“I had the great pleasure of having at least some bipartisan support of every one of my bills,” she said. “I have a good working relationship with Sen. Jeff Holy of Spokane [a Republican], the ranking member of the Higher Education Committee. I also formed some friendships, including Rep. Skyler Rude of the Tri-Cities [also from across the aisle].
“I think that different ideas make our system work better. And I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a one-party-rule Legislature.”
Still, there were times when on the Senate floor, some of Randall’s colleagues across the aisle would make statements that “would send me into a tailspin,” she said.
“I’d have to sit on my hands instead of standing up and countering back.”
One of those debates in which Randall was involved was with Walla Walla Republican Sen. Maureen Walsh, who made national headlines by suggesting on the floor that nurses in smaller hospitals “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day” when debating the merits of a Senate bill that would provide nurses with uninterrupted meal and rest periods.
Working bipartisanship solutions
But more productively for the district and the state, Randall worked with fellow 26th District Republican House member Michelle Caldier on a couple of healthcare-related issues. She supported Caldier’s bill for sexual assault kit notification and legislation to regulate hospital mergers, which Randall said was “a big win for our community and communities across the state this year.”
Randall also said she has a cordial relationship with 26th District Republican Jesse Young.
“He offered some great insight into one of my bills to create a pilot program for homeless college students,” she said. Young spent time as a homeless student decades ago in Tacoma, lending a valuable perspective for Randall as she developed SB 5800, which successfully passed the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Inslee. The legislation creates pilot programs at six colleges across the state to provide assistance to students experiencing homelessness or those who have been in foster care.
“We’re able to have really respectful conversations,” she noted.
Randall, a Wellesley College graduate who grew up in a working-class family — her father worked at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and mother is a paraeducator, and she’s the first in her family to attend college — is passionate about healthcare issues and education. She is vice chair of the Senate Health & Long Term Care and the Higher Education & Workforce Development committees. Randall also is a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, a needed voice for the transportation-challenged Kitsap and Key peninsulas.
“So many people in our community are foregoing insurance because they can’t afford it or buying healthcare for their kids but not themselves,” Randall said. “With an economy as great as Washington’s and the country … I’m excited about [the passage of] Cascade Care.”
She was a co-sponsor of the Cascade Care health plan, of which the Legislature passed a version that would create a public option for healthcare coverage in the state.
And Randall, also a member of the LGBTQ caucus in the Legislature, said she is proud to provide a voice to those in the district who have been overlooked in the past.
“This is all about putting power into the hands of Washingtonians to make decisions about their healthcare and the best decisions in a national climate where we are making it harder and harder for Americans, especially women, to access a full range of reproductive health,” she said.
While much of her focus has redirected the spotlight to these hot-button issues, Randall said she is continuing the work to help home dollars from Olympia — $29 million in capital budget funding — for Kitsap community projects, such as $10.1 million for a new technology learning center at Olympic College and $800,000 for improvements to the McCormick Woods Sewer Lift No. 2 project.
But one aspect of her license as a state legislator is the opportunity she has to speak with constituents, particularly young people. Randall, who was a student at Sunnyslope Elementary as a child, says she loves talking to school children.
She said listening to young voices adds yet another perspective to her legislative experience.
“I know that the work we are doing is impacting these kids and their futures,” Randall said.
“Being able to talk to them about that and what excites them or concerns them is awesome. Every single one of them has the potential to grow up and become a Washington state senator, U.S. senator or president. I’m happy to be one of the first people to ask them, ‘Would you consider running for office one day?’