Jess Spear readily admits her bid to unseat a powerful, 10-term Olympia politician with strong name recognition will not be a day at the beach. House Speaker Frank Chopp is about as entrenched as you can get in his Capitol Hill-centered 43rd District. But Spear, a 32-year-old climate scientist and Socialist Alternative candidate, says the political landscape is shifting in her favor. After taking leading roles in the successful $15 Now and Kshama Sawant campaigns, Spear is hoping to ride the momentum into Olympia.
“The political situation has changed,” she told CHS. “When we organize, we win, and we’re carrying that lesson forward.”
As ballots dropped last week for the August 5th primary, Spear will be staking out Capitol Hill street corners to get out her message of a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage and repealing the nearly $9 billion Boeing tax break state lawmakers approved last year. To those that say it can’t be done, Spear is quick to point out that many leveled the same charge against Sawant and $15 Now.
Spear was born and raised in northern Virginia and lived in Florida before moving to Seattle in 2011 with her husband, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. While working on a grant project through the U.S. Geological Survey, Spear said she became active with Socialist Alternative and Sawant’s unsuccessful campaign to unseat Chopp in 2012.
After initially settling in Lake City, Spear moved to Capitol Hill, but said she was forced to move out a year later when her rent increased beyond her budget. She now resides in Eastlake.
“It was frustrating for me,” she said. “I like Capitol Hill, it’s more coventient and walkable.”
Spear has made affordable housing her primary policy issue on the campaign — an issue few would argue should not be at the top of the list for any candidate in the 43rd District. Housing is also considered Chopp’s strongest issue, with his decades of experience working both inside and outside the legislature. Spear said she applauds Chopp’s work on low income housing projects, but said he hasn’t done enough to fund middle-income and workforce housing around Capitol Hill.
Spear wants to lift the state ban on rent control so Seattle could choose to regulate rent increases citywide. Spear said she doesn’t have a detailed policy proposal for Seattle, but supports programs enacted in other cities that use rent control boards to approve rent increases.
“It’s unecessary for a landlord to raise rent that much, they’re taking adavantge of the need people have for shelter,” she said. “It’s about providing renters with relief, so that they’re secure in their homes.”
While Sawant lost to Chopp by more than 20 points two years ago, 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.
Among the ideas Spear hopes will resonate with voters this time around is a tax on millionaires and big businesses to fund Metro services — and not just to stop the current round of Metro cuts, but to make King County an entirely ride-free zone.
“We can’t fund our public services when we’re giving these tax handouts to these extremely wealthy corporations,” she said. “If we’re going to fund education and transit, we need to fund in a progressive manner.”
The legislature’s failure to pass a transportation package is considered to be the main cause behind the Metro cuts, scheduled to start in September. In November, citizens will vote on a $60 car tab and sales tax increase to buy back Metro cuts, something Spear said she supports but only because there are no other options on the table.
Spear’s expertise and passion for addressing climate change is one issue where Chopp hasn’t made many inroads as a representative. Spear wants to stop oil and coal trains from running through Seattle and supports massive public spending on renewable energy projects.
Last week the The Stranger endorsed Chopp over Spear, citing Chopp’s mastery of Olympia and Spear’s lack of policy expertise. The endorsement was a blow to the Spear campaign – the paper strongly backed Sawant in her 2012 campaign to unseat Chopp.
Spear hopes voters won’t be as swayed by Chopp’s institutional power and will instead send her to Olympia to challenge notions of what’s politically possible.
“There’s a difference between echoing popular sentiment and leadership,” Spear said. “We’re not saying we’ll be able to win everything we’re putting forward, but you’re not going to win unless you go out there and fight for it.”
— James Parker (@Benjaminovitz) July 24, 2014