For the second election in a row, Rep. Frank Chopp will face a firebrand socialist challenger for his 43rd legislative district seat.
Following the successes of her lead roles in the 15 Now campaign and Kshama Sawant’s City Council run, Jess Spear officially announced her candidacy to unseat the influential speaker of the house Wednesday in an appearance on Capitol Hill.
Spear, a 32-year-old climate scientist, will run as a candidate backed by Socialist Alternative, the same party that helped elect Sawant last year.
“I and Socialist Alternative have proven we can win, we have proven results,” Spear said, speaking alongside Sawant at Seattle Central College. “I’m running to give a voice to renters in Capitol Hill that are facing skyrocketing rent. I’m running to give a voice to bus riders that are facing drastic cuts.”
Spear, who filed paperwork for her candidacy last week, said she would fight for a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage, closing corporate tax loopholes (including rescinding last year’s multi-billion dollar Boeing tax break), and work to lift the state ban on local rent control. She harshly criticized Chopp for being too closely aligned with the state’s major corporations and too out of touch with the district’s liberal Capitol Hill voter base. “Frank Chopp is Mr. Olympia,” she said.
After taking lead roles in two of Sawant’s campaigns, including her failed attempt to unseat Chopp in 2012, Spear is certainly aware of the challenge ahead. While Chopp is considered a crucial middle-of-the-road deal broker in Olympia, critics say he’s become vulnerable in his ultra-progressive 43rd district. And while he beat Sawant with 71% of the vote in 2012, it was a unprecedented showing for a challenger. Socialist Alternative leaders say the campaign proved the issues championed by Sawant, and now Spear, were more mainstream than conventional wisdom suggested — and they’re even more mainstream today.
That’s not to say Chopp doesn’t have his own, albeit less daring, progressive causes. As the founder of a housing and emergency food bank non-profit that eventually became Solid Ground, Chopp has prioritized funding for low-income housing and expanded state health care coverage since being elected in 1994.
Meanwhile, Spear, who will turn 33 this fall, remains a leader in the 15 Now campaign, whose members recently began gathering signatures to get a $15 an hour charter amendment on the ballot in November. The effort was launched after Mayor Ed Murray released his minimum wage plan, which called for five and seven year phase-ins for small businesses as well as tip and health care credits, allowing business to count those amounts towards wages.
“These workers can’t wait till 2025. The mayor’s proposal is a step forward but it falls short of what workers need by adding unnecessary delays of 3, 5 or even 10 years before getting up to an inflation adjusted $15,” Sawant said in a statement.
Sawant’s proposal, which would need more than 20,000 signatures to get on the ballot, calls for an immediate $15 an hour wage for large businesses and a three-year phase-in for small businesses. Depending on how things play out, Seattle 43rd District voters may be considering Spear and the 15 Now initiative on the same ballot later this year.