While vowing to relinquish his speaker gavel "to provide an orderly leadership transition," Chopp said he will remain in the Legislature as a representative of the 43rd Legislative District, where he was just re-elected to a 13th term.
Marking the close of an era in Washington politics, Rep. Frank Chopp will end his run as the state’s longest-serving House speaker after the 2019 legislative session.
Chopp, D-Seattle, was re-elected speaker for another two years at a Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday, but released a statement saying he will step down early from the leadership position, confirming a long-rumored plan.
“It’s been an honor serving the state as speaker since 1999, and to have helped hold the Democratic majority for so many years,” Chopp said in the statement, pointing to accomplishments including expanded health care for low-income people, paid family leave and marriage equality.
While vowing to relinquish his speaker gavel “to provide an orderly leadership transition,” Chopp said he will remain in the Legislature as a representative of the 43rd Legislative District, where he was just re-elected to a 13th term.
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The full state House must vote on Chopp’s re-election as speaker when it convenes in January, with such votes usually a formality. His successor will be chosen before the end of the 105-day session, said Democratic caucus spokesman Jim Richards.
First elected to the state House in 1994, Chopp has held or shared the speaker position since 1999. He began as co-speaker alongside Republican Clyde Ballard of East Wenatchee when the House was locked in a 49-49 tie between the parties, and ascended to sole speaker in 2002 after the Democrats won a majority.
Chopp, 65, is the second-longest-serving current statehouse speaker in the nation, behind only Michael Madigan of Illinois, who has held the post continuously since 1996, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Known for wielding enormous influence while remaining out of the limelight, Chopp on Tuesday declined interview requests. “Not now,” he told a reporter as he walked to a meeting. He has since scheduled a news conference for Wednesday morning.
Gov. Jay Inslee praised Chopp in a statement, saying “there are few people who work harder and with more heart … He has dedicated his career to lifting people out of poverty and strengthening economic security and opportunity for all Washingtonians.”
House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, credited Chopp in a tweet as “one of the last links to a truly statewide point of view. Best wishes to him and gratitude for the great political education he has provided.”
The race to succeed Chopp will play out in the coming months, with several Democratic lawmakers’ names already surfacing — along with a sentiment that it is time for the leader of the caucus to reflect its growing diversity. The Washington state House has never elected a woman or a person of color as speaker.
“I think there is tremendous respect for Frank and his service and his strategy. As a student of political science he is an absolute marvel to watch,” said state Rep. Noel Frame, D-Seattle.
But Frame said Chopp’s exit will allow a more diverse set of leaders to emerge. “The timing is right given the change in our country and our state and our democratic caucus …,” she said. “We have to walk the talk and model our values.”
Legislators mentioned by colleagues and political consultants as possible candidates for the next speaker include Democratic Reps. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma, June Robinson of Everett, Monica Stonier of Vancouver and Gael Tarleton of Seattle.
For more than two decades, Chopp has represented Seattle’s 43rd Legislative District, one of the most liberal electorates in the state. He has rarely faced significant election challenges and was re-elected this fall by taking nearly 90 percent of the vote against little-known Republican Claire Torstenbo.
Despite his liberal constituency, Chopp has led with an eye to retaining the Democratic House majority, at times declining to advance bills sought by the left wing of his caucus.
Still, Chopp has been known for standing firm on his priorities, including money for affordable housing, health care and social services.
“By almost any objective measure the guy has been the most successful politician in the history of Olympia,” said state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who also represents the 43rd District.
He credited Chopp with fighting to preserve the state’s social-safety net through the Great Recession and years when Republicans controlled the state Senate.
“Frank laid down on the tracks and said over my dead body will you get rid of fill-in-the-blank-program,” Pedersen said.
Chopp will exit on an electoral high note, as Democrats expanded their majority in the November election and will hold at least 57 seats, to 41 for Republicans. With the party in control of the state Senate and governor’s office as well, Democrats are preparing to advance an ambitious agenda of environmental and other legislation.
On Tuesday, Democrats also re-elected Rep. Pat Sullivan of Covington as House majority leader.
House Republicans also named their leadership team this week, retaining Wilcox as minority leader. The House GOP also named Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, as their caucus chair.
Harris replaces Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, who has drawn scrutiny this year for distributing a manifesto that details a “Holy Army” and for calling journalists “dirty, godless, hateful people.”