Pierce County Council Member and Chair Derek Young (D-7th, Gig Harbor) will leave the political stage when he completes his final term and his successor takes the oath of office in January next year. Young has represented the district, encompassing the Key Peninsula, Gig Harbor and parts of north and west Tacoma, since 2015.
“This will be my 25th year either running for or (serving) in office in local government,” Young said. “I don’t know exactly what comes next. I don’t want to say a definitive ‘No,’ but I have no plans for a higher office. I’ve had the job that was the most important thing I could be doing.
“We accomplished several major initiatives that I set out to do — environmental, behavioral health system, major investments in housing and homelessness,” he said. “There is a lot of implementation that will happen after me. Local government is like a relay race, so they will come to fruition over the next few years, but we had to get started.”
Young was born in Indiana in 1976 and moved to Gig Harbor with his family when he was 8 years old. He graduated from Gig Harbor High School in 1994, and he attributes his interest in politics and policy to his debate experience there. “I never had a grand career plan,” he said. “But extemporaneous speech training required having good background knowledge about a topic, and the Lincoln-Douglas style of debate was about values and philosophy.”
He attended the University of Washington but returned to Gig Harbor before getting his degree. “Life got in the way,” he said. “Once I returned home and started working, there was really no opportunity to go back and finish. And then, once I was doing what I wanted to do, I didn’t need a piece of paper for credentials.” He advises young people to get that degree. “I tell them I chose the harder path.”
As a young environmentalist, Young was frustrated by the pattern of development he saw in Gig Harbor. At 21 he ran for a position on the Gig Harbor City Council to make a point, not expecting to win. He served for 16 years.
During that time, particularly because of his involvement with transportation and land use issues, he concluded that decisions at the county level had a tremendous impact on local communities. “Counties are the tip of the spear,” he said. “We do public health, human services, economic development.”
He decided to run for a position on the Pierce County Council in 2014 and beat incumbent Republican Stan Fleming following a hand recount. Four years later he was re-elected with nearly 59% of the vote. For the last two years he has served as council chair.
His two terms, Young said, were very different. “I tried to lay the groundwork for a lot of stuff the first term. Broadband work started the first year when I got study money to prove it was a problem. The second term was about getting some things done after the groundwork was laid. And then the pandemic hit, affecting every part of the system.”
The transition from Republican to Democratic control of the council in 2020 helped to move some initiatives forward, Young said, but the council had shifted to a more collaborative approach by then, when Doug Richardson (R-6th, Parkland) became chair. Young attributes the shift to the fact that he and Richardson, who had served on the Lakewood City Council and as mayor, both came to the council from local government rather than the state legislature.
Most of Young’s interactions with County Executive Bruce Dammeier have been on boards, including South Sound 911 and the Puget Sound Regional Council, where they often see eye-to-eye representing county interests. “We don’t always agree. He has vetoed a few bills I have sponsored and even that is OK,” Young said.
“I appreciated Chair Young’s eight years of service to the people of District 7 and the entire county,” Dammeier told KP News in a statement. “Public service is always challenging, but especially so in the last few years. I wish him well in his next endeavor.”
Laurie Jinkins (D-27th LD, Tacoma), speaker of the House since 2020, said one of the things she has loved about Young is that he is a policy wonk. “He is deeply knowledgeable, and then adds a political context,” she said. “It leads to good relationships and solutions. He was actually a better policy wonk than candidate.”
Young also served as chair of the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health for the last two years.
“When he advocates, he tends to be inclusive,” said Dr. Anthony Chen, TPCHD director of health. “He has been outspoken about issues for rural communities, like broadband, but he also understands issues for other districts. He throws the umbrella broader. I admire him for looking at all issues and thinking about their impact on everyone.”
Chen said Young was a major force behind the Pierce County Opioid Task force, ensured that federal COVID-19 relief funding flowed to TPCHD, helped get staff from the TPCHD to the office in Key Center, and incorporated his experience from other organizations to improve health policy and outcomes locally. “I could go on for a very long time,” Chen said.
U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer (D-6th CD) first met Young when he was a state legislator and Young was on the Gig Harbor City Council. He called Young a partner from day one.
“He has developed real expertise in a number of issues,” Kilmer said. “Whether you are talking about environmental priorities, infrastructure investment, the unique challenges facing counties as they address everything from housing affordability to the importance of public safety — he knows his stuff,” Kilmer said. “Derek is not just someone who is respected locally. He is respected statewide and even nationally as a county leader.”
Young said he’s begun to hear about work opportunities. “It is a matter of what would be interesting to me, and a place where I could do some good. It is possible that I can continue with work that builds on what I have done and could partner with people I have worked with for years.”
But, he said, that work will be outside Pierce County and perhaps even beyond the Pacific Northwest. “There is an outside chance I might go to D.C., but I melt if it is above 85 degrees. This is home and I am passionate about it. It would be weird to leave.”
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