Gig Harbor area residents deserve better.
That’s our quick, six-word takeaway from recent reports of unapologetically boorish behavior by state Rep. Jesse Young of the 26th Legislative District.
As detailed by The News Tribune last weekend, Young is alleged to have acted rudely and communicated abusively with former legislative and campaign staffers. His behavior was viewed so badly, House administrators banned him from having a state-funded legislative assistant and a district office for at least a year — unlike all the other 97 members of the House.
For peninsula residents, the lack of a staff liaison between them and Young, plus having no local office to swing by, make it more challenging to bring forward their issues and concerns.
Young’s behind-the-scenes bully-boy reputation might not extend to his public persona, but it begs a question for those whom Young serves as representative:
Do these credible claims of misbehavior represent you and your values? And how do you feel about helping pay the bills if Young’s actions stir up a lawsuit?
Young, a Republican known for promoting economic development and conservative religious causes, told the TNT he’s been falsely accused. Though he acknowledges swearing and raising his voice at times, he denies mistreating staff.
He also raises an important point about how the allegations came to light: through a House disciplinary letter leaked to The Associated Press last winter. “It was leaked in an illicit manner by someone yet unknown who has no honor,” he posted on Facebook in January. Naturally, he would prefer avoiding public embarrassment.
The real injustice, however, was not done to the lawmaker but to his constituents. Too often, leaks are the only way residents can learn when their legislators get into hot water.
Chalk it up to a ridiculous loophole in Washington’s otherwise exemplary Public Records Act. House and Senate members and their attorneys can, and often do, claim legislative privilege when spurning public records requests. These include everything from daily calendars to emails and sanction letters — the same records every other level of government knows must be open.
“It’s inconsistent to treat this class of elected officials differently than every other,” former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna recently told the AP.
Amen to that. Yet legislative officials continue to exploit this loophole — such as by refusing to release Young’s disciplinary letter, which the TNT requested Jan. 30.
Most of what we do know about Young’s alleged hectoring of staff is the result of months of reporting by the TNT’s statehouse team. Reporter Walker Orenstein interviewed five people who worked with Young.
They painted an unpleasant picture.
Former Young subordinates told of dozens of “screaming fits” and “meltdowns,” laced with f-bombs and other words we can only identify by the letter they start with. The outbursts often started as simple disagreements during routine office business.
“There’s almost a badge of honor in surviving Young’s office,” one legislative staffer said.
The badge is of remarkably recent origin. Young was appointed to the House in 2014 and elected to a full term last fall, meaning he managed to alienate a lot of people in a short time.
Worse, he remains stubbornly obtuse about his demeanor, even while counting the various disgruntled employees he left in his wake.
Young told the TNT he has no anger problem; thus, he doesn’t plan to participate in an anger management course. House counsel advised him to take the class, or else his staff and office restrictions might extend into next year.
Which means Young’s constituents, again, would pay the price.
Young has done some good work in Olympia on issues that matter to the peninsula, such as holding down Tacoma Narrows bridge tolls. Why let hubris overshadow it?
We encourage him to own up to his mistakes, then focus on serving the 26th District with unimpeachable professionalism, self-restraint and a full complement of legislative support services.
Gig Harbor area residents deserve better from their state representative, and from a legislative hierarchy that values silence over accountability.