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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cross Purposes

posted by on April 18 at 14:34 PM

Over at Crosscut Austin Jenkins has a post about Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp.

The piece lays out the basic explanation for Chopp’s “One Washington” strategy: Chopp wants to protect his big majority by tacking centrist.

Josh Feit wrote about Chopp’s centrist “One Washington” in a long piece the Stranger last week—and asked a pertinent question: What’s the use of Dems having a supermajority if they’re afraid to use it?

Josh detailed how the Dem leadership in Olympia has gutted, tabled or thwarted a number of no-brainer legislative items: comprehensive family leave, a cap on payday-loan interest rates, a bill closing the gun-show loophole, a bill to keep tabs on corporate tax breaks by including those de facto expenditures in the budget, legislation preventing employers from holding “captive audience” anti-unionizing meetings, regulations requiring disclosure from pharmaceutical-industry lobbyists, an overall cap on CO2 emissions, tenant relocation assistance and a cap on condo conversions, legislation preventing strip-mining operations on Maury Island, protecting student free-speech rights, a homebuyers’ protection bill, full funding for health-care workers in nursing homes, and a cool follow-up to the infamous $3.2 billion tax break Boeing got in 2003, making the money contingent on a requirement that the company doesn’t engage in union busting.

Jenkins doesn’t enumerate these disappointments, nor, with exception of one anonymous lobbyist, does he quote progressives who are fed up. He does write…

It’s difficult to find dissenters in Democratic circles who will openly criticize the Chopp approach as too safe or too middle-of-the-road.

Huh? Josh found plenty of “dissenters in Democratic circles” willing to go on record: folks from the Sierra Club, SEIU, and the Washington Tax Fairness Coalition. Even a Democratic State Senator and a State Rep.

Here’s a sample:

“Frank Chopp never came close to acknowledging the environmental reality,” says Kevin Fullerton, chair of the Political Committee of the Seattle Sierra Club. “Instead, what he did was take this typical centrist position, which says, ‘We’ll build auto capacity first and then whatever, transit, comes second.’ And if we get anything at all we should be happy.”

Some legislators in Olympia were coming around to the Sierra Club’s view, says Fullerton. But “the fact that [Chopp] was so adamant prevented more-reasonable members from coming over. No one was going to say anything with Frank posturing the way he was.”

And another:

“In the fifth or sixth year of Democratic control now,” says David Rolf, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 775, “neither chamber has looked seriously at tax loopholes. We’re subsidizing the Realtors and the chemical fertilizer industry, for example, with millions.”

Indeed, a bill pushed by the liberal Tax Fairness Coalition that would have tracked these corporate tax breaks had 17 co-sponsors, including lead sponsor Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-37, South Seattle). Santos’ bill was passed out of the Finance Committee to the Rules Committee, but leadership yanked it from Rules and sent it back to Finance, where it’s now wasting away.

And from Sen. Brian Weinstein (D-41, Mercer Island)…

“This is democracy at its worst,” Weinstein told me in an 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.”

Josh worked the phones and reported this story. Jenkins phoned his in.

RSS icon Comments


Can they get rid of Chopp as House Speaker or do they need to wait for the next election?

Posted by elswinger | April 18, 2007 3:14 PM

I realize Chopp's only interest is in cementing a Democratic majority. But even by that narrow standard, much of his split-the-difference, triangulating, don't-rock-the-boat, foe-appeasing centrism is self-defeating. Well, at least in the long term.

Just take the viaduct and light rail. As The Stranger pointed out in its fantastic Urban Archipelago story, there's a clear pattern of urban voters voting Democratic. In 2006, a good number of suburban and exurban and rural voters may have swung Democratic, but the Democratic core is still in urban areas. Take someone who lives in a condo or townhouse and walks or rides transit a fair amount -- chances are overwhelming you've got a Democratic voter.

Without getting overly overt about it, shouldn't Democrats be doing all they can to make urban living more desirable and attract more urban dwellers? That is, shouldn't Washington Democrats be trying to make Washington skew more Democratic? Trying to build a massive, new elevated freeway in the worst possible place for an elevated freeway -- or trying to shackle a popular light rail project with a Republican-designed roads package that doesn't have the guts to commit to tolling -- these are the sorts of concessions that seem to say, "We're perfectly happy with the rules of the game, even though the rules of the game currently favor our opponents."

Posted by cressona | April 18, 2007 3:42 PM

What's the point of having Dems in control?

What? You did notice about what the Supreme Court did today, didn't you?

It makes a LOT of difference.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 18, 2007 4:42 PM

We want Dems in control. And we want them to govern like they're in control.

Posted by Dan Savage | April 18, 2007 5:05 PM

That's exactly right, Dan.

Effective governance isn't by intentions, it's by actions.

Posted by J in Seattle | April 18, 2007 10:22 PM

Lots of action in the State Legislature this year.

Sheesh. Get a life.

At least they don't talk about being green like Greg N and then try to spend lots of money on an underwater tunnel, thereby subsidizing cars, while requiring global warming creating fans to run 24/7 ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 18, 2007 11:51 PM

It's pathetic that Chopp is more concerned with keeping the D next to people's names than with what the hell that D means. Who gives a shit if Democrats are in the majority if the democratic party is completely unrecognizable. The loyalty ought to be to the ideas, the reasons you chose the democratic party in the first place, not to the name.

Posted by Steve | April 19, 2007 7:03 AM

Will @3: The day the Washington State legislature starts confirming U.S. Supreme Court justices is the day your argument will start making any sense.

Posted by Trey | April 19, 2007 7:53 AM

Have to disagree with you Trey. With the Supreme Court ruling, Choice will now be under attack at the state level and a Democratic majority is the only thing protecting it.

Posted by Michael Dante | April 19, 2007 9:02 AM

#3 When the Dems took control it didn't mean they could undo Bush's Supreme Court picks. We are stuck with these assholes until they die. Basically we are fucked for at least another 20 or 30 years.

Posted by elswinger | April 19, 2007 2:13 PM
Posted by Dan, you're supposed to be an editor, not a flak for Josh | April 19, 2007 2:28 PM

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