PORT ORCHARD — The political campaign season is less than a month away from its climactic finish on Nov. 3. And while what has transpired on the national stage is unlike anything witnessed in a lifetime, the general election campaign regionally has, in comparison, been a relatively subdued affair.
That’s somewhat surprising for the 26th Legislative District, which includes the race for state representative position 1, in which incumbent Rep. Jesse Young is running for reelection to a fourth term representing a district that encompasses parts of southern Kitsap County and portions of Pierce and Mason counties.
Also running for reelection is fellow Republican Rep. Michelle Caldier, who began representing the district’s position 2 in 2015.
A relatively calm contest for Young’s seat is somewhat of a surprise, considering the Republican has become something of a lightning rod in the state Legislature with his willingness to take center stage on a number of populist issues that excite some of the more militant and conservative members of his party.
Young has been vocal in his support of Spokane legislator Rep. Matt Shea, who has been visible in the Patriot Movement, an organization labeled by other lawmakers and some in law enforcement as instigators of domestic terrorism. In 2016, Shea participated in the 41-day armed takeover and occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
Young also has been a strong defender of gun rights and was part of a demonstration a few years back in support of former Bremerton High School coach Joe Kennedy and his practice of saying prayers with players following games.
The outspoken Young has an interesting backstory. The Gig Harbor resident experienced homelessness as a youth and led a tenuous life on the streets while attending school in Tacoma. Despite his tough beginnings, Young graduated from Wilson High School and was the school’s valedictorian at graduation. Named a Washington State Scholar, he attended and graduated from the University of Notre Dame.
A software engineer and IT business consultant, the incumbent has voiced his support for developing the region’s technology industry. He has crafted legislation to ease the costs of crossing over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and says he is working to fully fund K-12 education in the state.
Young’s Democratic opponent in the general election is first-time candidate Carrie Hesch of Gig Harbor. A board member of the Key Peninsula Community Services board, she directs recreation and athletics at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy.
Hesch earned a bachelor’s degree from Pacific Lutheran University and a master’s degree in critical infrastructure planning and management from the University of Washington. She has advocated fixing the underpinnings of the state’s public health system and points to the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis as an example of why a revamping of that system is needed.
In her voter’s guide statement, Hesch said that “The coronavirus crisis has shown us that we need leaders investing in our public health, safety, small businesses and our local economies.”
Hesch has campaigned for safeguarding protections for people with pre-existing conditions, providing greater funding for mental health and substance abuse services, more funding for rural hospitals and clinics, and ensuring women have access to full reproductive health services.
The Democrat also has campaigned as being a leader who will instill integrity to the office, a reference to Young’s periodic issues in the state Legislature over his conduct with staff members, some of whom have complained that the legislator had been abusive in their interactions with him.
In the position 2 race, Caldier will once again face Democrat Joy Stanford in the general election. Stanford was her opponent two years ago in a race the Republican won comfortably. This time, the Democrat seems to be better prepared to face the legislative veteran and has collected a larger campaign war chest. But Stanford was back of mind for Caldier during the primary while she faced a challenger from her own party — Alisha Beeler — a state committeewoman for the Kitsap County Republican Party, which endorsed Beeler over the incumbent.
While Caldier prevailed over Beeler in the primary, the moderate Republican known for her bipartisan approach in Olympia has faced criticism from some party members for failing to stay in lockstep with other GOP members in the Legislature.
For her part, Caldier — a University of Washington graduate and a dentist by profession — has said that political posturing does little to help district families and businesses struggling to survive during a public health crisis. In her voter’s guide statement, the incumbent said that working across the aisle “gets things done for our community.”
Her standout issues in the Legislature this last session included greater accountability by large health care organizations and their leaders, keeping a lid on tax increases and providing greater assistance to sexual assault victims through the timelier application of rape kits in state health care facilities.
A former foster child, Caldier said she has a special interest in ensuring that the gaps in funding for foster youth programs be fixed.
Stanford has also advocated for a return to bipartisanship. In her voter’s guide statement, she wrote: “Ideological politics won’t help families and businesses recover from a recession and public health crisis. We need positive leadership, focused on results and accountable to local taxpayers and families.”
The former Medicare consultant for Group Health Cooperative also is a health care advocate who voices support for greater access to affordable medical coverage and housing, and wants more attention paid to the homelessness at a state level. The graduate of the University of Phoenix with a bachelor’s degree in business administration said high housing costs have contributed to increasing homelessness that has overburdened public and nonprofit social-service organizations.