The last time Washington Rep. Frank Chopp had a real race on his hands was in the 1994 primary election that first vaulted him into office.
Since then, Chopp, a Democrat from Seattle’s 43rd Legislative District, ascended to power and then guided his party for a generation as the longest-serving House speaker in state history.
He stepped down from leadership last year, after a tenure that included expanding health care coverage and guiding the state through the Great Recession, and advocating for affordable housing and mental-health services.
But recent years have seen some progressives argue Chopp didn’t do enough while in leadership to advance their priorities — such as on rent control and progressive taxes — sought by many in Seattle.
Chopp, 67, won the August primary with 49.8% of the vote in a three-way race — his lowest percentage since that first 1994 primary.
Now, the Nov. 3 election will serve as a yardstick of Seattle’s changing politics and where Chopp fits in.
He faces challenger Sherae Lascelles, of the Seattle People’s Party. Lascelles, 32, is an entrepreneur who has organized for sex workers’ rights. Lascelles, who uses the pronouns they and them, received 31.1% in the Aug. 4 primary.
In an interview, Chopp touted recent accomplishments, such as securing the new psychiatric teaching hospital at University of Washington and passing legislation to make college tuition free or reduced for low- and middle-income Washingtonians.
That program, the Washington College Grant, was funded by hiking some taxes on businesses, including an extra hike for some large companies like Microsoft and Amazon. The nonprofit organization Education Trust called it a “model for other statewide promise programs” and hailed its approach to achieving equity.
That plan would implement a new tax on some capital gains to pay for affordable housing, workforce education and tax credits for low-income families. It would also create a payroll-style tax similar to the state’s family-and-medical-leave law to pay for early-learning and child-care programs.
And it would impose a tax on corporations by assessing them for each worker they have who earns more than $500,000 per year. That money would go toward public- health programs and Washington’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The election is about “moving forward to address the important issues that face the state of Washington,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lascelles has put out a 20-point platform that includes planks like progressive revenues, such as a tax on capital gains; making housing a human right; free mass transit; and a state-level green new deal.
Lascelles declined an interview through a campaign spokesperson, citing a busy schedule.
But Lascelles is campaigning not just on policies, but on a call for a broader cultural shift among elected officials to tackle systemic problems in society.
“But a lot of the policies that are impacting underprivileged folks in this state, mostly marginalized folks in this state, criminalized folks in this state, do not touch legislators,” Lascelles said in a candidate forum this month. “Because they don’t have the experiences or the demographics that encounter those systems.”
“So first and foremost, I would never compromise unless it’s something that the community told me they were willing to allow me to compromise on,” they added. “Otherwise, hold the line, 24/7, especially on progressive revenue.”
It’s not the first time Chopp has faced a challenge from the left. Current Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant, challenged Chopp in 2012, drawing 29% of the general election vote. In 2014, another Socialist Alternative candidate, Jess Spear, tried to unseat him. That year, Chopp won the general election with 82%.
The race for campaign contributions this year is relatively close. As of Friday, Chopp had raised $195,487, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. Lascelles had brought in $110,099 — a higher figure than either Spear or Sawant raised in their races against Chopp.
This year, Chopp has been endorsed by the Washington State Labor Council, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, Planned Parenthood Votes NW & Hawaii, among others, as well as host of Democratic lawmakers in Seattle, including Rep. Nicole Macri and Sen. Jamie Pedersen, and House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, of Tacoma.
Lascelles has been endorsed by, among others, The Stranger, the Transit Riders Union, the Young Democrats at the University of Washington, Seattle DSA and the Green Party of Seattle.