The fundamental division of the race between state Rep. Frank Chopp and activist challenger Sherae Lascelles was brought into stark relief Thursday night during a virtual forum hosted by the 43rd District Democrats. The election is not just a referendum on policy proposals, but a question of what voters value more: a candidate in Chopp who was the longest serving House speaker in state history with extensive experience shepherding legislation or a candidate like Lascelles who has been the subject of decisions made in Olympia as a non-binary person of color.
So while there are differences between the candidates, like Lascelles bluntly calling themself an “abolitionist” while Chopp stops at saying he supports reducing police funding and funneling that money into housing and mental health services as well as independent oversight of law enforcement, the incumbent Thursday night focused on specific measures he has pushed in his 25 years in the state legislature, while Lascelles focused on how those policies affect people like them.
Thursday, Chopp called for a permanent extension of the statewide eviction moratorium implemented because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, lifting the statewide ban on rent control that has stunted local efforts to cap rent, and an increase in funding for affordable housing. Lascelles called these measures, which would face uphill battles in Olympia, a “great start.”
“We quite literally need to cancel rent and cancel mortgages,” Lascelles said on the Zoom forum to about 120 attendees. “It’s gonna hit us hard, it’s gonna hit us for a while. I’m currently living in precarity because I’m one of those individuals that without the eviction moratorium, I would be homeless again. It’s not enough to just delay the debt. That debt can cripple the entirety of someone’s future and life.”
Lascelles, who has spent much of the summer working with the Decriminalize Seattle coalition, said that prior to this year, Chopp was one of the biggest obstacles to progressive change in the legislature, calling his ideas now have come “too little too late.” Chopp argued he has been working on these measures, specifically in affordable housing and other realms, for decades and called himself a “community organizer at heart” in an apparent move to paint himself as less of a member of the Democratic establishment.
“It’s important to not only talk about rhetoric, but actually turn rhetoric into reality,” said Chopp, who told CHS in the past that helping to create the Housing Trust Fund was one of his proudest accomplishments. Chopp instead pointed to Republicans in the state senate, who have controlled the chamber for much of the last decade, for stymieing various progressive policies pushed by Democrats.
Both candidates pointed to turning around the state’s regressive tax structure as a key, in their views, to building a better Washington. Chopp says he is pushing a measure similar to the JumpStart tax recently passed by the Seattle City Council to tax big business and fund community services. This is especially prescient as the state faces billions in budget shortfalls from the economic fallout of the pandemic, Chopp noted.
“Progressive tax is kind of the key to everything,” Lascelles said. “We can’t keep taking excuses from folks who say ‘I did everything I could’ and put their hands up in the air, especially when they were a gatekeeper.”
The Olympia veteran Chopp is facing unique challenges in a campaign marked by COVID-19 restrictions and videoconferences. Thursday night, he also stumbled over pronouns, apologizing for “mis-gendering” Lascelles at one point in the exchange.
With a “super massive” smoke plume headed for Seattle, the candidates were also asked about climate change, with Chopp saying he supports the Green New Deal, transitioning the state’s vehicle fleet to electric, a clean fuel standard, transit-oriented development, and investing in communities most affected by environmental degradation. Lascelles called for economic empowerment for these communities and working with Indigenous peoples on “restorative justice.”
The 43rd Legislative District includes Capitol Hill, Madison Park, and Montlake, among other neighborhoods. Rep. Nicole Macri appears primed for an easy re-election after receiving a staggering over 91% of the primary vote in August.
Chopp, meanwhile, is facing what is shaping up to be one of the toughest re-election campaigns of his career, as he garnered just under 50% of the vote in last month’s primary. Lascelles, representing the Seattle People’s Party, received over 31% and activist Jessi Murray got more than 18%. If you combine the totals of Lascelles and Murray, who both fashioned themselves as political outsiders running to Chopp’s left, the election is almost a dead heat.
By comparison, in 2018, Chopp sailed to re-election with almost 90% of the vote against a Republican challenger and in 2016 he ran unopposed. In the two elections prior, in 2014 and 2012, Chopp faced Socialist Alternative opponents and won easily; he grabbed over 70% of the vote running against now-Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant in 2012.
Chopp has raised more than three times as much as Lascelles in campaign contributions, with nearly $136,000 compared to his opponent’s $41,000, according to filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission. Lascelles has also spent less than $12,000 while Chopp has spent more than $118,000. Some of Chopp’s biggest contributors have been unions, like the state Building and Constructions Trade Council and the political action committee for the Washington Education Association, as well as Native American tribes, such as the Muckleshoot and Swinomish tribal communities.
The 43rd District Democrats will be voting on their endorsements for this race and others on Tuesday.
Ballots are slated to be mailed for the November General Election on October 14th. Election Day is November 3rd.
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