Most people now think of Washington state as a bastion for Democrats, especially the Puget Sound area around Seattle. But there are a few bright conservatives who have figured out how to make some ground. Rep. Jesse Young represents the southwestern side of the Sound; including parts of Tacoma, Gig Harbor, Bremerton and Port Orchard. The area had been a traditional Democratic stronghold, so it was a bit of a surprise to see this principled conservative take the seat two years ago. The 40-year-old father of five was unanimously appointed by Democrat and Republican officials to fill the position when it was left vacant in January 2014, then he beat the Democrat later that fall. Now Young is in a close race — less than one point apart — against liberal Democrat Larry Seaquist.
Young has an inspiring story. He grew up living homeless on the streets of Tacoma, yet overcame a tough life to graduate valedictorian of his high school class. He went into information technology and software engineering.
He ran on three promises and has kept all of them. First, he led the effort to successfully stop the toll increases on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Secondly, he got a balanced budget passed with no new tax increases. And finally, got the legislature to reduce college tuition costs and fund Teacher COLAs (Cost Of Living Adjustments).
Young is full of creative but practical ideas. One of his bills, the Toll by Coffee Act, would open up toll bridge management to private companies who could sell food and beverages — just coffee alone would be an immensely profitable venture in the Pacific Northwest. “We could turn a $6,000,000 a year hit into a $6,000,000 a year profit,” he told Key Peninsula News.
The bill had broad bipartisan support in both houses, which passed it, but the governor vetoed it out of the budget. The state would pay nothing, merely put out a bid. Starbucks or whichever business wins the bid would take on all of the burden, including leasing fees and collecting the tolls. Starbucks has proposed building shops above the tollbooths. Commuters could order their coffee in advance through an app on their smartphone, and the readerboard would instruct them which line to enter. Due to the volumes of commuters, it has the potential to be the most lucrative Starbucks in the state.
Young has also introduced legislation to reduce the cost of textbooks by introducing open source textbooks and allowing students to borrow materials from the training departments of major businesses. The Textbook Affordability Via Open Sourcing (TAVOS) Act is the first creative bill that would break the textbook monopoly. Additionally, he wants to bring more information technology jobs to the area and supports Career Technical Education, with an emphasis on local industries like aerospace and maritime.
Young has a rare gift for garnering support from both Democrats and Republicans. The Washington Education Association supports him. “I’m the only Republican on the western side of the mountains that has a WEA endorsement,” he notes. Every education bill he wrote and co-sponsored with Democrats.
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On the other hand, Young has been endorsed by the NRA, Washington Human Life Political Action Committee, and is rated 100 percent by the National Federation of Independent Business. State Representative Elizabeth Scott, a Republican from the 39th District, describes him, "Jesse Young is that rare combination of intelligent and wise. His life experiences give him a deep compassion for the vulnerable and a determination to give people a helping hand up, not a handout. He is principled and courageous, not afraid to stand alone for an unpopular vote.”
Young’s opponent is Larry Seaquist, age 77, who appears to be a perennial candidate. He already served in the House from 2007-2015, and when he lost his seat in 2014 to Republican Michelle Caldier, he started to run for state superintendent of public instruction. He changed his mind in May when he discovered WEA was endorsing another Democrat in the race, and went back to running for the House again.
Seaquist has a dismal record on education. His first vote as a state legislator was to take away COLAs from teachers, then he lied to them about it and never gave them back. The state was sued over not adequately funding education, known as the McCleary decision, as a result of legislation that was passed while Seaquist was chair of the House education committee. This is why he lost reelection two years ago and the WEA won’t endorse him but went with Young instead.
Seaquist has a lengthy list of union endorsements on his website, so it’s clear how he will be voting. He’s endorsed by the radical Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood. He graduated from the “hippy” Evergreen State College, and his wife writes for the left-wing Huffington Post.
Seaquist has a visceral dislike for charter schools. He told the website Seattle Education, “I would not let the charter movement into the state.” If charter schools are eventually allowed by the law, he says, “I will go to that law staff and write a new bill and take it to the legislature, to get rid of charter schools in the state.”
He once denigrated NASCAR, referring to its owners as "those people [who] are not the kind of people you would want living next door to you. They'd be the ones with the junky cars in the front yard and would try to slip around the law." The Seattle Times noted this “snooty” view taken by Seaquist and another legislator do not represent those in Seaquist’s district, “They are talking about an increasingly mainstream sport many of their constituents hold dear.”
Seaquist was ineffective at keeping tax dollars from being directed to Seattle. In contrast, during Young’s first two-year term, he brought back over $51 million to the district, more than Seaquest did his entire tenure.
Democrats hold a narrow lead in the House of 50-48, and Republicans control the Senate. Seaquist admits he’s running in order to make sure the Democrats keep control of the House. “I do believe I would have been a terrific superintendent of public instruction,” he told The News Tribune, “But you’ve got to have a party in control.” The choice between the two candidates couldn’t be much starker; the Republican with new ideas who is respected by Democrats, or the liberal, union-owned perennial candidate.