Socialist Alternative: The Stranger’s Strange Endorsement of Frank Chopp

Jess Spear

(The following was originally published on Jess Spear’s campaign website.)

A Statement from Socialist Alternative
By Philip Locker

The Stranger, Seattle’s main alternative newspaper, endorsed Democratic State House Speaker Frank Chopp instead of Socialist Alternative challenger Jess Spear. This represents a 180 degree turn from its previous scathing opposition to Frank Chopp and support for the Socialist Alternative challenger to him in the last election.

This is despite the fact that Spear’s policies, such as refusing to take corporate donations, opposing corporate welfare, taxing the rich, and rent control are far more in-sync with the people of Seattle, especially the 43rd district she is running in. Just this week The Stranger’s own readershipvoted for Spear over Chopp by a 2/3rds majority in an online poll. On the other side, Chopp is fueled by a seemingly endless supply of cash from companies like Boeing, BP, Bank of America, McDonalds, Walmart, Vulcan, Comcast, the Washington Restaurant Association, and Alaska Airlines to name a few.

The Stranger opens their endorsement statement with a blistering attack on the pro-corporate policies of the state legislature (led in no small part by House Speaker Frank Chopp):

[The state legislators] just spent their last terms spinelessly handing Boeing nearly $9 billion in tax breaks while also failing to find the relatively piddling $2 billion that the state supreme court ordered them to cough up so we could properly fund basic education for the next couple school years. The motherfucking STATE SUPREME COURT. And what did Olympia do? They pretty much just sat around with their hands down their pants…

Honestly, “contempt” is really too light a word for what The Stranger Election Control Board feels toward our legislators’ performance lately. No $2 billion for basic education. No statewide transportation package. No funding for our beleaguered Metro bus service. No urgency about getting us more light rail. Virtually no action on ending Washington’s status as the state with the most regressive tax system in the nation. No serious steps toward combating climate change. (Stranger Endorsement Statement, 7/15/14)

Of course Jess has been making the same points throughout her campaign.  Yet they argue that they “love a badass socialist. (See Sawant, Kshama.) But socialist Jess Spear didn’t convince us she’s ready to bring the people’s revolution to Olympia, and we think longtime House Speaker Frank Chopp and his maddening incrementalism will actually do more for the issues we care about, more quickly, than a Spear election would.” They go on to argue Jess’s election would only push state politics to the right.

However in this race in the 43rdlegislative district there is no threat from a Republican – the only candidates on the ballot are Democrat Frank Chopp and Socialist Jess Spear. Even according to the logic of lesser evilism (which we do not subscribe too) what is there to lose by supporting a strong progressive challenger to Chopp, Olympia’s czar of corporate politics for the past 20 years?

Frank Chopp’s Record
One of the best sources on Chopp’s pro-business politics and record of using his power to push progressive Democrats to the right has been The Stranger, including these articles:

Anyone But Frank Chopp

Misled – Democrats Have a Supermajority in Olympia. Progressive Legislation Is Being Killed. Who’s Blocking the Democratic Agenda? Seattle’s Frank Chopp, Speaker of the House.

Chopp Supports Building Industry Association of WA over Homeowners

I Wouldn’t Say That to Feckless Sissy Frank Chopp (Because Frank Chopp Is a Feckless Sissy)

Frank Chopp Talks Down to Savvy UW Students

In the last state house election in 2012, The Stranger even took the unprecedented step of urging their readers to write-in Socialist Kshama Sawant against Chopp to protest his failed policies. In the primaries they campaigned for Kshama, writing “hot damn would it be thrilling to send a brash, uncompromising Socialist Alternative legislator to Olympia to kick some majority-squandering, safety-net-degrading Democratic ass.”

For the 2012 general election they explained further:

The two-party system has resulted in a squabbling Olympia and a distracted Democratic Party that’s become too satisfied with incremental—and often meaningless—gestures on the biggest issue facing the state. Our failure to adequately fund schools, preschools, colleges, health care, and literally everything that costs money is rooted in a structural revenue deficit that we’ve known about since the Gates Commission published its tax structure report in 2002. What have the Democrats done to fix that fundamental problem? Basically nothing.

They need a kick in the ass, and that kick is called third-party candidates … [Kshama Sawant is] a flaming—and brilliant—Socialist Alternative candidate. She’s challenging Democratic house Speaker Frank Chopp, the second-most- powerful person in Olympia, who has presided over the last decade’s devastating cuts to colleges (UW tuition has increased 82 percent over four years), to say nothing of slashing funding for health care and the disabled, and gutting funding from state agencies. 

The Stranger played a decisive role in popularizing Sawant’s election campaigns in 2012 and 2013, while the main voice of big business in the northwest, The Seattle Times, endorsed her opponents.

So What Changed?

On the same day that The Stranger released its endorsement of Chopp, The Seattle Times ran a cover story about SpearThe Times quotes an influential developer lobbyist, Roger Valdez, as saying “Chopp could lose. ‘I think a lot of people were asleep at the switch a year ago,’ referring to Sawant’s surprise victory over Councilmember Richard Conlin. Even if Spear doesn’t win, Valdez said, she may pressure Chopp to push a more liberal agenda on issues like rent control.”

Valdez is correct in his assessment that the political establishment and big corporate interests in Seattle had not fully mobilized to stop Sawant in 2013. But they have seen what Socialist Alternative has been able to accomplish by electing a single socialist – including the 15 Now grassroots movement that was central in forcing the establishment to raise Seattle’s minimum wage to the highest in the nation just 6 months after Kshama taking office. Now that same political establishment recognizes, in the words of The Seattle Times: “If Conlin’s defeat was a wake-up call, a Chopp loss would be a cataclysm for Seattle Democrats.”

Electing a second socialist refusing corporate cash would have significant repercussions and would strengthen support for independent left-wing candidates and for building a political party of the 99% that will fight for demands like a $15 minimum wage, rent control, and taxing the rich to fund education, transit, and clean energy.

In this context, supporting a socialist is no longer just a protest, or a funny joke, but represents a real threat to the Democratic Party leadership. The growing strength of Socialist Alternative meant that The Stranger was faced with the prospect that by endorsing Jess Spear she could possibly win, with all the consequences that flow from that.

As Socialist Alternative wrote at the time of the 2012 and 2013 elections, an important aspect of The Stranger’s support for Kshama Sawant was as a means to push the Democratic Party to the left. In contrast, Socialist Alternative viewed her campaigns as a step towards building a new political force that can represent working people.

After bashing Chopp they concluded their 2012 endorsement of Sawant by saying “Is Chopp personally responsible? Not entirely. He’s a good man who has tried hard to fight for the poor, students, and the sick (while sometimes squandering his majority). But he’s the party leader, and he’s not going to lose this election, so this is a perfect opportunity for a third-party candidate to inject fresh ideas into mainstream politics. Vote Sawant.”

In their 2013 endorsement of Sawant they wrote: “We wouldn’t want a council filled with Sawants. But we don’t want a council filled with sniveling, prevaricating Conlins, either—and that’s pretty much what we have now.”

Faced with the prospect of actually starting to displace the Democratic Party’s grip on Seattle politics rather than pushing the Democrats to the left, unfortunately The Stranger has chosen at this time to pull back from supporting an independent progressive candidate who could actually win.

Events and experience will demonstrate again and again the anti-worker, conservative role that the decisive majority of Democratic Party politicians play, and increasingly pose the need for workers and all those who seek progressive change to build their own independent political voice.

Was this not shown in all the recent debates on the Seattle City Council when the majority of the City Council (all Democrats) voted against workers interests (see: anti-worker clauses added to $15 minimum wage; opposition to taxing business to fund Metro Transit; giving the CEO of City Light a massive pay raise on top of his already exorbitant pay; failing to act to stop home foreclosures; etc., etc.)?

Or on the state level, was it not the Democratic Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp, who convened an emergency session to give Boeing $8.7 billion, the largest tax handout in US history? Or the Democrats, when they had the Governor, State House and State Senate blocking the Workers Privacy Act and Speaker Frank Chopp asking the State Patrol to arrest the head of the Washington State Labor Council for demanding politicians take the side of workers?

While we regret The Stranger’s decision to prop up Frank Chopp and the failed politics he personifies, we are hopeful that on the basis of new events and political debate they will support genuine progressive candidates who challenge the corporate status quo in the future.

How to Effect Social Change
The Stranger
 bases itself on a fundamentally mistaken view of how to win political reforms. “House Speaker Frank Chopp and his maddening incrementalism will actually do more for the issues we care about, more quickly, than a Spear election would.”

That’s because Spear, who sees Sawant’s success on the nine-member Seattle City Council as her model for success in Olympia, seems to believe that electing just one socialist from one Seattle district to the 98-member state House will suddenly cause the rest of the House members to march behind her on rent control, a higher minimum wage … Spear says things like, “I think electing me alone will cause many people in the legislature to understand.” Wrong. If the motherfucking state supreme court can’t even make people in the legislature understand, under the threat of a contempt of court finding, then how is one election in one ultraliberal district going to transform the minds of people representing Omak and Moses Lake, never mind a majority of House Democrats?

They also argue that if Spear deposed Chopp as house speaker, the position would land in the hands of a more conservative Democrat.

Of course as Jess herself has pointed out, the election of a single candidate is no silver bullet in the 98 member State House. Yet the election of a second socialist in Seattle would nonetheless send shockwaves through the political establishment and push the discussion to the left. Regardless of which Democrat became the new House Speaker, the issues of regressive taxation, underfunding education, and rent control would be brought to the fore, as $15 was so dramatically by the Sawant election.

Whatever small improvements for ordinary people that Chopp lays claim to from his 20 years in office pale in comparison to his austerity policies that have massively exacerbated inequality. Under Chopp’s leadership over the past decade we have seen $10 billion in devastating cuts to social services, mass transit, and education while the state spends $6 billion a year on corporate handouts, not to mention the largest tax break in U.S. history – $8.7 billion to Boeing! This was in spite of the domination of the Democratic Party during most of Chopp’s tenure, including a number of years when the Democrats had full political control of the State, with the governorship, the House, and the Senate.

Passage of progressive legislation is not determined primarily by skillful negotiation or which individual controls the House Speaker position; it’s determined primarily by how different social interests pressure the politicians in power, and the level of mobilization of working people to fight for their interests.

Jess Spear refuses all corporate cash and relies solely on grassroots activism and donations from ordinary people. Spear will use her position in elected office to build a movement to fight for the needs of ordinary working people like she did successfully as the 15 Now Organizing Director alongside Seattle Councilmember Sawant. The $15 movement and other social movements in history, such as the union movement and the civil rights movements for blacks, women, and LGBT people, are primarily what improve society for the majority of people, not re-electing corporate politicians.

The working class makes Washington State run. We are the teachers who run the schools, nurses who run the hospitals, the baristas and waiters who run our coffee shops and restaurants. And yet we don’t have our own political voice representing us in Olympia. The richest 1% has two parties – isn’t it time we had at least one party of our own?

Just as business organizes for their class interests through their own organizations, political parties, and media, working people need to build our own organizations – unions, community organizations, and our own independent political party – as well as our own independent media that will advocate consistently for our interests.

The Jess Spear Campaign will campaign vigorously to win a seat in the state legislature, building on the example of the successful campaign to elect Kshama Sawant to the City Council. Look what working people accomplished with one elected representative – so much more can be accomplished by significantly building the forces of independent left-wing politics. Please join Socialist Alternative and sign up to donate or volunteer at www.VoteSpear.org.

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