For 36 years, most level-headed Republicans in Washington State have cataloged aspirations to win the 6th Congressional District on the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas in the category of fantasy, the way that local baseball fans dream up scenarios in which the Seattle Mariners might play in the World Series.
When Congressman Norm Dicks (D, WA-6) announced last month that he would not seek a 19th term in the U.S. House, the tradition of whimsical speculation gave way to serious talk about a Republican gain, particularly in light of the considerable work done by Republicans during last year’s redistricting that made the 6th Congressional District less of a Democrat stronghold.
If the GOP’s door of opportunity has truly opened, Tacoma native and Republican Jesse Young may just be the right man in the right place at the right time.
Young has been running a non-stop campaign to unseat Dicks since the 2010 election. His loss in that year’s primary did not deflect from a two and a half year mission to bring change to the district. Now that the seat is open, Young sees a unique opportunity and believes that his having overcome immense personal obstacles equips him to rise to this new challenge.
I sat down with Young for a lengthy interview and learned enough about him to know that if the road to victory runs through adverse territory, Young’s personal story of overcoming obstacles should not be underestimated. To say that Young is no stranger to being the underdog is an understatement of the first order, but he looks beyond preconceptions when charting his course for the campaign.
“You have to go all in. Go big or go home,” Young confidently told me.
During his high school years, Young’s family struggled financially. Chronic homelessness was a way of life—humbling accepting the generosity of friends in order to have a warm place to sleep was his reality. Still, Young persevered to excel academically, earning the Washington Scholar Award—a free ride scholarship to the state university of his choosing.
Opting against attending an in-state college, Young chose Notre Dame, where he earned a degree in management information systems in 1999. His education became a launching pad to lucrative work as a sought-after software engineer and business consultant, a path that leads to his current position as a senior technology consultant with Russell Investments.
Young described his private sector accomplishments as keys to his value as a candidate for high public office, the benefit of having a perspective on how laws governing businesses actually impact businesses.
“I’m tired of the ranks being permeated with people with no business experience whatsoever,” Young said. “I’m asking voters in the 6th Congressional District to send someone to Congress who can bring back jobs of the 21st century, and I think I’m uniquely qualified to do that.”
Along the way, Young married his high school sweetheart, Jenny, with whom he has five children—four their own, one adopted from Ethiopia, all five home-schooled. It was no surprise then that current issues in education and economic opportunity became a focal point of my conversation with Young about why he is running to become a U.S. Representative.
Young agrees that the current education system is not working and sees less federal control as a critical part of the overall solution.
“I would advocate a transition away from the Department of Education and start block granting the money back to the states,” Young answered when asked what sort of education agenda he would pursue if elected. “That’s how I’ll legislate—I believe constitutionally that’s the right thing to do.”
“There are a lot of innovative teachers here, and there are a lot of people who know how to make things happen,” Young continued.
But according to Young, education will not be the most important issue in this year’s campaign—unemployment looms large over the peninsula’s political conversation, as it has for decades since the beginning of chronic decline in the region’s timber industry.
Young asserts that the unemployment rates in Grays Harbor, Mason, Clallam and Jefferson Counties—joblessness exceeding state averages—is a serious problem that decades of Democratic representation has failed to adequately address. In Young’s view, it all comes back to making a better world for our children.
“I don’t think if you took my kids and put them back into Hilltop the way I grew up, now, that they could do what I did. I don’t think the opportunity is there, and it bothers me,” Young said.
The recent move of his own employer—Russell Investments—from Tacoma to Seattle was evidence of that shrinking opportunity as well as the failure of certain elected officials to adequately represent their constituents.
Young gives a large share of the blame to Dicks and his Democratic opponent—State Sen. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor)—for not keeping Russell Investments in Tacoma, a loss of the biggest white collar employer in the congressional district, a move Young says “impacted thousands of people and their families and decimated small business, too.”
“Tacoma could have kept [Russell Investments]… Norm Dicks could have gotten involved and tried to keep them there,” Young suggested. “[Derek Kilmer’s] on the Pierce County Economic Development Board… that would have rejuvenated Tacoma…”
Another issue Young feels is a sleeper in the race involves the Wild Olympics proposal, a plan to take another ring of land surrounding the current perimeter of the Olympic National Park and prohibit commercial activity. The plan is supported by Dicks and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) but has generated strong opposition from local residents.
“They already had to go through the spotted owl… the economy has started to rebound a little bit and now they’re saying ‘no touch’,” Young said. “I hope that Dicks and Murray continue to push it. I hope that [Kilmer] walks right into it.”
The Wild Olympics proposal may even have been enough of a wildcard on the Olympic Peninsula to have been the tipping point in Dicks’ decision to retire. Young suggested to me that Dicks’ support for the plan began to face of growing opposition from within his own party.
“With the Wild Olympics program, [Dicks] started to see that we had an immense amount of support,” Young said. “He doubled-down on it… and then local Democrats started coming out against it and he had never been put in a position where the local Democrats were saying no. People just don’t realize how important it was to the people out there.”
Young also wonders how the U.S. can expect China to stop “killing their land” in order to sustain its industrial growth if we do not demonstrate to that nation and other developing nations the ways to respectfully develop their lands for economic use.
Young sees the Wild Olympics plan as going too far, with very real and drastic national security and economic implications if the proposal is pushed through.
The areas tagged under the Wild Olympics plan contain areas for the mining of manganese, nickel, gold, copper and silver, metals that also may indicate reserves of rare earth metals crucial in both modern manufacturing and “green energy” technologies.
“With that plethora of diversity, what’s the likelihood of finding rare earth materials as well?” Young asked.
“Right now, China has over 90% ownership of all nickel mines, they have over 90% ownership of all rare earth metal mines.” Young looked me directly in the eye, then pointed to my smartphone sitting between us on the table. “What do you think would happen to our economy if that phone goes up to $5,000?”
“What’s going to happen to companies where everyone uses a laptop and now you have to cut 20% of your headcount because you can’t afford to supply them?”
If the 6th Congressional District’s economic woes were born by ill-considered environmental policy, they could certainly be made worse by piling on more of the same, but Young’s opposition to the Wild Olympics plan goes well beyond the stock conservative reaction to federal environmental overreach and told me that he wants to “aggressively put forth a plan and start talking about how to leverage the materials in a way that honors our land.”
With the credibility to promote common sense conservationism on the campaign trail, and the real-world experience to know what he’s talking about, Young represents a real challenge to the status quo.
No wonder Dicks got out when he did.