With the election less than a month away and ballots set to be mailed out in just over a week, community advocate Sherae Lascelles criticized the incrementalism they see as epitomized by Rep. Frank Chopp, a Democrat who has served in Olympia since 1995, who in turn touted years of accomplishments in a virtual forum Monday evening.
When Chopp noted he supports a state income tax and laid out his past work on estate and big business taxes, Lascelles argued this past work doesn’t go far enough and called for taxes on capital gains and wealth, saying “we can’t just add the word progressive to a legislation and say that it’s actually enough.”
Lascelles, who represents the Seattle People’s Party, noted that their goals haven’t changed in the face of months of protests against police brutality and systemic racism because they see their campaign as already aligning with the movement.
“My priorities have always been with them because I am a part of them,” said Lascelles, a non-binary person of color. “I will bring the movement that impacts the municipal level and the county level to the state one. We no longer can just say the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ and do nothing and not have our actions speak as loud, if not louder, than our words.”
Chopp noted his work on the police accountability measure, Initiative 940, which passed in 2018 with 60% of the vote, but said that was only the beginning. He also called for the abolition of qualified immunity for police officers and changing collective bargaining agreements that allow law enforcement to skirt transparency. Lascelles pushed for divesting from the state Department of Corrections and reinvesting in communities of color.
“There is so much more we need to do,” Chopp said. “I will definitely actively sponsor and advocate for and push through legislation that would restrict the use of police force.”
Chopp, who served the longest tenure of any Washington House speaker from 1999-2019, described Olympia as the “most progressive Legislature in the nation,” but conceded “we’ve got to do a lot more and a lot more better things.”
“But we have a strong record of progressive legislation,” he said in an apparent attempt to pushback on Lascelles’s characterization of him as too moderate to represent the 43rd Legislative District, which includes Capitol Hill, Madison Park, and Montlake.
Lascelles, meanwhile, argued that “incrementalism kills folks” because of the difficulties disadvantaged communities face in accessing existing systems.
“We can have really strong middle-of-the-road representation for our district as long as we live, but it won’t necessarily prevent unnecessary death,” Lascelles said, adding later “it’s time for someone to put their fucking foot down.”
Less than a month away from Election Day, Chopp could be facing one of the toughest re-election campaigns in years, as he garnered just under 50% of the vote in the August primary. Lascelles received over 31% and activist Jessi Murray got more than 18%. If the totals of Lascelles and Murray, who both fashioned themselves as political outsiders running to Chopp’s left, are combined, the election would be nearly a dead heat.
Chopp sailed to re-election with almost 90% of the vote against a Republican challenger two years ago and ran unopposed in 2016. 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.
Both candidates have ramped up their fundraising, each raising more than $25,000 since mid-September. Chopp has brought in more than $163,000, almost $100,000 more than his opponent’s nearly $67,000, according to filings with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission. Meanwhile, the incumbent has spent over $146,000 and Lascelles over $36,000.
The 43rd District Democrats, which hosted a forum with Chopp and Lascelles last month, will be phone-banking with the former state House speaker Wednesday night to help residents make voting plans.
The event, hosted by the Seattle University student government, Seattle Central’s Associated Student Council, and the Washington Bus Education Fund, also included candidates for lieutenant governor and the open race to represent the 37th Legislative District in the state House.
In the crowded August primary for lieutenant governor following current Lt. Gov Cyrus Habib’s retirement from politics, U.S. Rep. Denny Heck and state Sen. Marko Liias advanced, with about 25% and 18% of the vote, respectively. On Monday, Heck called for banning exclusionary zoning and rent relief while Liias pushed for “strong rent control,” progressive tax reform, and Medicare For All.
After longtime Rep. Eric Pettigrew, a Democrat from Renton, announced he was leaving the state Legislature for a job with NHL Seattle, former Seattle City Council member Kirsten Harris-Talley and activist and entrepreneur Chukundi Salisbury advanced to take his seat representing the state’s 37th LD, which stretches from the Central District to Skyway.
Harris-Talley called herself an “abolitionist” on police issues Monday while advocating for rent forgiveness amid coronavirus pandemic-fueled economic concerns and prioritizing renters’ rights in Olympia. Salisbury pushed “green career pathways” to help fight climate change, investments in social housing, and “responsible upzoning.”
The full 90-minute forum, which included Rep. Pramila Jayapal answering her questions via recording, can be viewed here.
Ballots for the all-mail November 3rd election are scheduled to be sent to voters next week.
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