We endorse: Two rookies, one incumbent, to stand up for Gig Harbor-Peninsula at Capitol

The Tacoma Narrows bridges are on the doorstep of the 26th Legislative District, where three seats are up for election this year.
The Tacoma Narrows bridges are on the doorstep of the 26th Legislative District, where three seats are up for election this year. Peninsula Gateway file photo

Everything costs more on the west side of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and not just real estate. Consider the 26th Legislative District, where state Sen. Jan Angel is retiring and Republicans are clawing to keep the seat in the fading hope they can reclaim Senate control.

So far, more than $1 million has poured into the ferocious swing-district race between Republican Marty McClendon of Gig Harbor and Democrat Emily Randall of Port Orchard. More than $552,000 in independent spending has targeted Randall — tops in the state this year — roughly split by those trying to lift her up and those trying to tear her down.

Cut through the heaps of money and ugly campaign mailers, and Peninsula voters are left with two candidates with no elected experience, both of whom say they’d bridge the partisan divide in Olympia.

Emily Randall

Who’s more credible? Our endorsement goes to Randall, a promising, 33-year-old Kitsap native and the first person in her three-generation Latino working-class family to earn a college degree.

Randall’s advocacy for affordable healthcare is illuminated by her personal story — she was raised with a profoundly disabled sister — and she worked as a health-care advocate before returning to the 26th last year. Growing up in overcrowded South Kitsap schools stirred her passion for student equity and opposition to the state’s unfair supermajority requirement to pass school bonds.

McClendon, a 51-year-old Realtor and pastor, is a familiar face and would have you believe he’s the more experienced candidate. But his political resume consists of multiple failed bids for office and a recent stint as Pierce County Republican Party chairman.

The eternally upbeat McClendon preaches bringing people together. In front of some audiences, however, he’s let slip a divisive alter ego; in 2016, while running for state lieutenant governor, he appeared on an ultra-right online talk show, labeled Democrat Cyrus Habib as “anti God” and “not a Christian,” and added: “In fact, many call him a Muslim.” In actual fact, Habib is Catholic.

McClendon later apologized, but voters might well wonder: Will the real Marty please stand up?

Despite some GOP efforts to smear Randall as a radical, she’s the one we’d entrust with a four-year Senate term.

Similarly, in House Position 1, we believe judgment and temperament elevate Port Orchard Democrat Connie Fitzpatrick over Rep. Jesse Young, the two-term Republican incumbent from Gig Harbor.

Connie Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick took a circuitous route to politics, serving as a Navy sub tender torpedoman, then running a local beauty shop for 10 years. She stakes out middle-of-the-road positions on issues such as fully funding public schools and relieving traffic congestion. Policy depth is a work in progress, but with mentors such as former state legislator (and fellow Navy vet) Larry Seaquist, there’s reason to believe this 49-year-old small business owner will grow into the job.

Young has worn out his welcome after multiple reports of verbally abusing staff. If not for his short fuse and tendency to blur the line between election activities and state resources, it would be a different story. The 42-year-old software engineer is a maverick force for his district, such as helping freeze bridge tolls this year.

But Young’s mistakes, as much as he discounts them, have real consequences: He was stripped of his legislative assistant and district office two years ago, and the Legislative Ethics Board recently slapped him with his second fine in less than a year.

Rep. Michelle Caldier

In House Position 2, voters would do well to return Republican Rep. Michelle Caldier for a third term. She’s also faced ethics complaints, but unlike Young, they were dismissed.The 42-year-old Port Orchard resident has been assailed by the fringes of her own party for something that’s a credit to her: a willingness to work with Democrats.

Growing up in foster care combined with her former career as a nursing home dentist give Caldier sensitivity to folks who often feel powerless, including state-supervised children and seniors, sexual assault victims and whistleblowers.

Democrat Joy Stanford is a 54-year-old substitute teacher in Gig Harbor still developing her political voice. The 26th needs more people of color in elected office, and Stanford’s commitment to students runs deep, but Caldier’s bipartisan record should prevail.


The TNT Editorial Board is partnering again this year with Verify More, a nonpartisan nonprofit watchdog that coordinates background screenings with candidates’ consent. Five of the six general election candidates for the 26th Legislative District participated in the screening; Rep. Jesse Young did not. To see the database, go online to verifymore.org