Days before election results are announced — and with nearly 70% of ballots already returned in their district — state Rep. Frank Chopp and his third-party challenger Sherae Lascelles seemed to be agreeing on most policy issues in a Hillowee-flavored debate hosted by The Stranger Thursday night. The result for the online crowd Thursday night, anyhow, was a victory in the viewers poll for the incumbent Chopp — a possible prediction, he hopes, of the veteran lawmaker’s maintaining a connection with his Democratic base and resonance with at least a portion of its more progressive edges.
Both said they were in support of a head tax-like proposal for big business. Both said they wanted to enact “good cause” eviction legislation at the state level. Both said they were against fare enforcement. Both said they wanted to cap rent increases at 2%. Both said police officers were overrated and protesters demonstrating for the past 150 days were underrated.
And both said they wanted to ban high capacity magazines in guns and decriminalize sex work. Chopp said he wanted to tax capital gains at 10% and Lascelles said 5% would be a good starting point.
But they did notably diverge on one question not relating to policy that could say a lot about how they would govern if elected in the 43rd Legislative District.
Is this a time for civility in government — or is it time to take the gloves off?
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Chopp, the longest serving House speaker in state history who stepped away from that role in 2019, argued it was underrated while Lascelles, an insurgent candidate representing the Seattle People’s Party, said civility was overrated despite his reputation for working across the aisle for decades in Olympia.
Lascelles has spent months arguing that the status quo, in their view represented by the longtime incumbent, is unsatisfactory and can’t serve marginalized communities as well as someone from those groups.
“I would like to see individuals whose lives have been directly touched, but I also want to see sweeping action and I don’t think that we’re going to get it if we keep things the way they are,” said Lascelles, gender non-binary person of color.
Chopp touted progress he’s made in office over the last several years, including increased access to healthcare and affordable housing projects. He said that his top priority in Olympia next year if re-elected would be to pass legislation that would decriminalize non-violent drug offenses.
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Lascelles said their top priority would be progressive taxation in a state with one of the most regressive tax systems in the country. Lascelles also said it is necessary to work with Republicans while Chopp disagreed, arguing that if Democrats continue to hold vast majorities in Olympia after this election, they can continue to work on progressive legislation without compromising with conservatives.
The 43rd Legislative District includes Capitol Hill, Madison Park, and Montlake, among other neighborhoods.
Chopp also expressed disappointment with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s move to dismantle the CHOP occupied protest zone over the summer.
“She made promises for more investment in programs like the needle exchange and homeless programs and she made a mistake there in terms of the sweep with the CHOP zone, with one ‘P,’” Chopp said.
On the issue of policing, Chopp said he wants to see legislation pushed that would require independent prosecutions of police misconduct and institute community oversight boards for all law enforcement agencies, including local police departments and the Washington State Patrol: “We can’t have the police investigating or prosecuting themselves, that’s ridiculous.”
Lascelles said they wanted a law that would remove officers who use force that kills a civilian and de-prioritize of “all drug, poverty, and sex work offenses.”
The Thursday night debate, however, was not all about governing. The theme was Dungeons & Dragons, with Chopp donning a The Lord Of The Rings-style costume over a white button-up shirt. When asked to describe his character for a mock DnD game, he called himself a “dwarf warrior.”
Lascelles was dressed as “Bluthulu,” with sky blue tentacles hanging over their mouth for the duration of the 90-minute forum.
The talent section included a wall of soup with Lascelles’s policy platform and voting instructions as the packaging (as well as chugging an energy drink) and Chopp reading a poem chronicling his early work as an organizer that included saying The Seattle Times was “full of feces.”
In a poll of 136 viewers of the debate, Chopp won with 57% of the vote, compared to 43% for Lascelles. In the August primary, Chopp received just under half of the vote while Lascelles garnered over 31%.
Ballots must be deposited in a drop box by 8 PM Tuesday or postmarked no later than election day to be counted — though with worries about mail delivery shenanigans, we suggest you use the drop boxes. There are drop boxes on Broadway in front of Seattle Central College, next to the University of Washington’s Schmitz Hall, and by the Garfield Community Center on E Cherry St.