Running for re-election to an 11th term, Democratic state House Speaker Frank Chopp rattles off a list of accomplishments: from adding $1 billion to the state’s affordable-housing fund, to expanding health care for poor children.
But Jess Spear, Chopp’s longshot Socialist challenger this year, forcefully dismissed those wins in a rare face-to-face debate Tuesday night.
While Chopp brandishes “this or that” legislation passed during two decades in Olympia, she said, the state’s tax system ranks as the nation’s least progressive. While schools have been ruled unconstitutionally underfunded, she said, lawmakers rushed into special session to hand Boeing a $9 billion tax break.
“We need to look at the forest and not get distracted by this or that tree,” Spear said during the sparsely attended candidate forum at the Pocock Rowing Center at the south end of Seattle’s University Bridge.
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Chopp defended his record, saying his legislative wins have been “tangible accomplishments affecting real people.” Other efforts, such as closing tax loopholes and a bill to require paid sick leave, have been stymied recently by the Republican-dominated state Senate, he said.
“That is what is holding back a lot of these things,” Chopp said.
The two are facing off in the 43rd Legislative District, which includes Seattle’s liberal core — Capitol Hill, the University District and Fremont.
Spear’s supporters hope to show Socialist Kshama Sawant’s defeat of longtime Seattle City Councilman Richard Conlin last year was no fluke, and that socialists can be a viable party in Seattle. Both Sawant and Spear belong to the Socialist Alternative Party.
Chopp, the state’s longest-serving House speaker, took 80 percent in the August primary. He’s raised $250,000 for his campaign and has felt confident enough to shift $90,000 to bolster Democrats in competitive districts elsewhere.
After the candidate forum, some of Spear’s supporters confronted Chopp about his acceptance of corporate donations over the years from the likes of Wal-Mart, Boeing and McDonald’s.
Chopp said he’s taken money from such companies in the past — but has refused or refunded some donations this year, knowing he’d be challenged by “these people.” He also pointed out he’s refused to accept meals paid for by lobbyists, unlike many colleagues.
Spear said Chopp has been avoiding more lengthy debates with her, though the two will face off in a taped debate on the Seattle Channel in a couple weeks.
Chopp denied he’s been dodging but would not commit to more debates Tuesday night, noting he’s working on legislation and campaigns to maintain the Democrats’ House majority. “I’m busy,” he said.