With control of the state Capitol at stake, no swing district this year can match the 26th Legislative District for gamesmanship and intrigue.
And that’s just among Republicans.
As the TNT Editorial Board prepared for election endorsement season, the plot thickened in the 26th District — which stretches from Gig Harbor to Bremerton — thanks to an eleventh-hour switcheroo.
Sen. Jan Angel filed to run for reelection this spring, then decided to withdraw. Republicans found an understudy: Marty McClendon, the Pierce County GOP chairman. But he and Angel waited until less than an hour before the end of filing week to make it official.
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Thus, the district’s two sitting Republican House members, Jesse Young and Michelle Caldier, were effectively boxed out.
Will Republicans hold all three seats, or will Democrats turn the tables and pad their majorities in Olympia? Political handicappers are watching closely.
For the open Senate seat in the 26th, the two candidates we believe should advance past the Aug. 7 primary election are Marty McClendon and Emily Randall.
McClendon offers Republicans a safe choice, a polished competitor who will defend the tax-averse, Christian conservative agenda that Angel upheld for five years. By rule, he resigned the GOP chairmanship after filing for office, but his fealty to the platform remains absolute.
Credit the 51-year-old Gig Harbor real estate broker for resilience after three losing campaigns, most recently a 2016 bid for lieutenant governor.
By now Peninsula voters should know what they have in McClendon: an unwaveringly upbeat candidate light on policy details but tireless in talk of “win-win” scenarios. The Republican caucus, in need of a recharge, could use some of his positive energy.
On the Democratic side, Randall provides a well-traveled perspective and proves you can go home again. The 32-year-old Latina was raised in a union household, left to attend college and work as a health-care advocate, and returned a year ago after 13 years away.
A childhood in South Kitsap gives her a persuasive voice against overcrowded schools, while growing up with a severely disabled sister makes her a passionate champion for affordable healthcare.
Randall has strong appeal for diverse millennial voters, including those identifying as LGBTQ.
Also vying for this seat is Bill Scheidler, a conspiracy-minded independent and perennial candidate leading a one-note crusade against alleged government corruption.
For House Position 1, we recommend Naomi Evans and Connie Fitzpatrick.
Evans, 39, got a crash course in state politics as a citizen fighting for parental rights. A Bremerton School Board member, she’s versed in grassroots K-12 issues and makes a reasonable case that she’s ready for higher office.
Anti-tax, pro-gun rights conservatives won’t be disappointed in her, and she deserves to carry the Republican message into November.
For Democrats, the only choice is Fitzpatrick, a military veteran in a district full of them. Politicians like to talk about helping vets transition into the private sector, but she’s done it; the former Navy sub tender torpedoman has owned a local beauty shop for 10 years.
Fitzpatrick needs to flesh out positions on several issues, but we see raw potential in the 48-year-old PTA mom from Port Orchard.
Jesse Young has a lot more to offer than potential, yet we regretfully can’t endorse the incumbent Republican’s bid for a third term.
The Legislative Ethics Board fined Young twice in the past year for crossing the line between elections and legislative duties. Charges that he verbally abused staff led to loss of his legislative aide. He denies all impropriety, but the smoke swirling around him warns of at least some fire.
Young is smart, creative and not afraid to buck his party at times, and this year he achieved his long-sought goal of freezing Narrows Bridge tolls. But his remorseless lapses in judgment can’t be overlooked. What a waste.
For House Position 2, we endorse incumbent Michelle Caldier and political newcomer Joy Stanford.
Caldier, 42, represents core Republican pocketbook values while distinguishing herself as an advocate for the marginalized, including foster children (as a girl, she was one) and nursing home patients (as a dental surgeon, she treats them).
The Bremerton native has matured over two terms. She’s under fire for not kowtowing to the party’s right wing, but we commend her for voting her conscience, such as supporting bans on firearm bump-stocks and gay conversion therapy for minors.
If Caldier were the traitor some claim, she wouldn’t have the trust of GOP officials including House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox.
Stanford, 53, knows all about the demographic diversity of the 26th, having lived 10 years in Gig Harbor and the previous 10 in Port Orchard. As a substitute teacher, she sees gaps in K-12 education and failing infrastructure in school districts that can’t pass capital bonds.
Speaking to us, she was fluent on key Democratic talking points. And in Olympia, she’d be that rarest of leaders — a person of color representing the Peninsula.
A third candidate in the race, Marco Padilla, 34, is retired from the Navy and fervent about Latino veteran advocacy. He’s lived in the district only a year and has no party affiliation.
Finally, Republican Randy Boss is waging an aggressive challenge against Caldier. The 69-year-old real estate broker built a bulldog reputation leading the fight against the second Narrows Bridge, but he’s known more for what he stands against (tolls, taxes, any school bond) than what he stands for.
It reflects poorly on Boss, a Gig Harbor resident, that he resorted to mudslinging over an unfounded ethics complaint against the incumbent.
He considers it a sin that Caldier often votes with Democrats. But in a district nearly equal parts red and blue, we see her willingness to work across the aisle as an asset.
Checking their records
The TNT Editorial Board is partnering again this year with Verify More, a nonpartisan nonprofit watchdog that coordinates background screenings with candidates’ consent.
All screenings came back clear for 26th District candidates who participated. (Randy Boss, Marco Padilla, Bill Scheidler and Rep. Jesse Young did not consent.)
To see the database, go online to verifymore.org