Ever know someone who had a really hot car, but they were afraid to really drive it?
That's how Washington's Speaker of the House Frank Chopp rolls.
How about the guy who had the 300-watt stereo system, but would never crank it up because "I don't want to blow the speakers"?
That's how Frank Chopp gets down.
And that's exactly how Chopp was getting down when a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession died in the Washington Legislature last spring.
According to multiple, well-placed sources (both inside the Legislature and those observing), Chopp, through a lack of political will and leadership, is the legislator most responsible for the death of marijuana decrim in the last session. A reliable inside source, in a position to know, tells me Chopp doesn't want to force a "controversial" marijuana decrim vote by the entire Legislature, because he doesn't want to force fellow Democrats (in the majority) to vote on pot any time before the 2010 election.
The dude has a commanding Democratic majority in the state legislature, yet seems eerily unwilling to actually use that power to achieve progressive goals. Is that due to the fact that he's practically a sponsored candidate of the far-right Building Industries Association of Washington (BIAW), which funded both of Dino Rossi's reactionary (and unsuccessful) campaigns for Governor? Maybe. Chopp has worked with the BIAW to oppose consumer protection legislation supported by his own party.
"This is democracy at its worst," State Senator Brian Weinstein (D-Mercer Island) told The Stranger in a 2007 interview. "Here is one guy who overruled 30 Democratic senators and the Democratic House Judiciary Committee. There's no point in doing the fact finding, holding eight hours of hearings, of doing the right thing, if a dictator can just pull the rug out from under you."
"Weinstein went as far as to say Chopp killed the bill because he was sucking up to the BIAW," The Stranger's Josh Feit reported. According to Weinstein, Chopp wanted the BIAW on his side come election time to protect the Democratic majority. "And," Weinstein added derisively, "not do anything with it." (Chopp claims the BIAW had nothing to do with his decision.)
Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams (D-Olympia), who wore a defiant "No BIAW" pin to a Democratic holiday fundraising event in 2008, said he’s not running again because Chopp has neutered the Democratic agenda in Olympia by cozying up with the BIAW. Williams has been a major victim of Chopp’s alliance with the builders assocation: Two years in a row Williams’s homeowner bill of rights was killed at the last minute by Chopp. The BIAW was upset that homeowners would, my goodness, have the basic right to sue for faulty construction.
"Losing his majority" seems to be a deep and recurring fear for Chopp; it seems not to have occurred to the man that the reason he enjoys a big Democratic majority in the House is that maybe, just maybe, the voters support the Democratic agenda. His continual trumpeting of the "One Washington" theme sounds less like a yen for unity and more like a call for capitulation to conservatives. This is probably why Dominic Holden of Seattle alternative newspaper The Stranger has called Chopp a "feckless sissy."
The House Speaker has gone so far to appease the GOP that one prominent Demoractic State Senator, asked if Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna would be the Republican nominee for governor in 2012, replied, “Who knows? The GOP could run Chopp.”
Chopp's leadership style, or lack thereof, has been a growing source of controversy within progressive Democrats for some time now. Over and over, you see Chopp described as "the most powerful politician in the state," but you'd never guess it from his unwillingness to go out on a limb, to take a stand, to have a backbone.
This is frustrating for progressive Democratic voters who (over?)assume that having a liberal House Speaker like Chopp would result in more progressive advances. Granted, Chopp has passed the estate tax, collective bargaining for state employees, a housing trust fund, the highest minim
um wage in the country, opportunity grants for college tuition, and other achievements. But edge a little farther out the progressive limb and it doesn't take long to run into a laundry list of disappointments. Progressive wish-list items like environmental protections on Maury Island, payday-loan guidelines to protect low-income borrowers (which even Georgia has), ratcheting down the more than 400 lucrative tax loopholes handed out by the state to corporations... all unfulfilled promises, all due to Chopp's failure, despite wide party and voter support, to make it happen.
Labor unions, disappointed by Chopp's (and Gov. Chris Gregoire's) failure to bring the Workers Privacy Act (WPA) to a vote in the 2009 session, in an unprecedented move, declined to endorse any candidates this year. (The WPA supports First Amendment privacy rights of individual conscience, including opinions about politics, religion, unionization, and charitable giving. The WPA would have made sure that employees who resist any indoctrination of this kind by their employers would not be punished, and was unanimously approved by the state Democratic Party.)
Chopp, who grew up in Bremerton, Wash., likes to describe himself as a "Bremerton Democrat" (translation: "I'm almost like Norm Dicks. Besides, I don't smoke pot; I drink beer. Vote for me, please!"), presumably to distance himself from the "effete Seattle liberal" image that scares him so badly ("One Washington," remember?) Basing public policy on fear of what the conservative, largely rural, eastern Washington might think seems to be Chopp's mode of operation.
Chopp "repeatedly refused to provide any responses to citizens on the issues through the 2008 Political Courage Test when asked to do so by national leaders of the political parties, prominent members of the media, Project Vote Smart President Richard Kimball, and Project Vote Smart staff," according to Project Vote Smart. That would require, like, taking a stand, you know? But it is perhaps telling that a few years ago Chopp, in the "Washington Gubernatorial Election 1996 National Political Awareness Test," wouldn't list marijuana decrim as a cause he supported:
Contact Info For House Speaker Frank Chopp's Office
Call Speaker Chopp's office and let him know you support marijuana decrim.
(Etiquette hint: it's probably best not to talk about the missing balls.)