Democrat debates Socialist in Washington state race

About 100 people, mostly students, turned out on September 25 to hear incumbent Democrat Frank Chopp of the Washington House of Representatives’ 43rd legislative district debate challenger Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative at Seattle University.

Sawant received over 10% in a blanket primary vote against Chopp during the summer, allowing her to run against him in the November election on a separate ticket. Washington’s Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed challenged her ability to declare her party preference (Socialist Alternative) on the November ballot since she did not do so as a write-in candidate during the blanket primary, so she successfully filed a lawsuit against Reed.

Now, voters in Washington’s 43rd legislative district will choose between a Democrat and a socialist to represent them in the state legislature this November.

Chopp focused narrowly on his accomplishments as Speaker of the House without mentioning any failures, setbacks, or significant hurdles. The overall picture he painted could be described as, “yes we can, and we are.”

Sawant, an adjunct professor of economics at Seattle University and Seattle Central Community College, took Speaker Chopp and his House Democratic majority to task for not doing more or what was possible. She pointed to referendums in 2000 (initiatives 722 and 728) to shrink class sizes that passed with overwhelming approval by voters but were never implemented. Sawant placed responsibility for that failure on Chopp and his House Democratic Majority. Chopp replied dryly that the initiative was “not paid for,” as if it was the voters’ job to figure out all the legislative details to make a referendum a reality rather than his job. He claimed that there was “no revenue” to pay for the ballot initiatives, ignoring Sawant’s point that $3.2 billion that could have been used to fund them went instead to Boeing as a tax break; Boeing pocketed the money and laid off hundreds of workers.

In his closing argument, Chopp claimed that he had increased transportation funding, never mind the recent end of the free bus service in the down town Seattle area.

The most interesting part of the evening’s event was the question-and-answer period with the audience. There was no red-baiting or anti-communist diatribes, a stark contrast to the health care town halls of 2009. Instead, audience members asked both candidates for solutions to pressing problems like homelessness, unemployment, poverty, and draconian cuts to social services like education. They were interested in were results, not party loyalty or ideology. Droli Rainey, the 84-year-old woman pepper sprayed in the face at an Occupy protest in 2011, needled Chopp for “not fulfilling your duty under the state constitution” by not stopping the yearly cuts to education funding and wanted to know when can voters expect could expect something different from the House Democratic majority. The second question came from a teacher who asked Chopp why the state declined federal funding that could have been used to provide health care for the children of immigrants, including the undocumented.

After only two questions from his constituents, Chopp exited the debate, claiming to have a prior engagement. He missed a question about homelessness from an Iraq war veteran and discussion of the cuts to transit by an activist bus riders’ union.

The debate portion of the event can be viewed on YouTube and the full event after Chopp’s early exit can be viewed here.