[Marxism] Socialist Alternative member Jess Spear Running Against House Speaker Frank Chopp

Tristan Sloughter tristan.sloughter at gmail.com
Sat May 17 16:26:58 MDT 2014


Jess Spear, a climate scientist and organizer who is leading the
grassroots campaign for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in Seattle, filed
paperwork this afternoon to run against the most powerful lawmaker in
the state legislature, House Speaker Frank Chopp.

Since he was elected 20 years ago, it's fair to say that Chopp has
created a political paradox for himself: He's simultaneously influential
and vulnerable. While Speaker Chopp successfully carved out a moderate
path intended to win and retain a Democratic majority in Olympia, he has
alienated much of his base in the state's most progressive district, who
seek a unapologetic champion of liberal causes.

Spear criticizes Chopp's strategy by arguing Democrats' house majority
has dwindled, and the senate was overtaken by Republicans. On key
big-picture issues—such as education funding (which plummeted), social
services (which were gutted), and a tax structure (which falls more on
the poor than any other state)—Chopp has negotiated budget compromises
that represent a decade-long trend of conservative victories. On the
other hand: An unabashed progressive, she argues, can widen the narrow
spectrum of political discourse, thereby nudging third-rail causes into
the mainstream.

But I asked Spear this: Although Chopp may not grandstand for his
liberal 43rd Legislative District, many voters value a well-connected
politician who can hold back a conservative tide, so how would she
appeal to them?

"I understand why people want to hold back the Republicans," says Spear,
a 32-year-old socialist running with the same Socialist Alternative
Party that launched Kshama Sawant's political career. "But Democrats are
no way to do that. By passing regressive taxes, they push working people
toward the Republican Party. They are not advancing the issues that
working people care about. They are not actually showing leadership. The
lesser evil isn’t getting us where we need to go on really important

Spear is staking out three policy goals:

Spear wants to close corporate tax loopholes, such as hundreds of
millions in tax breaks routinely given to Microsoft and the nationally
record-setting $8.7 billion tax break handed out to Boeing last year.
That was ostensibly an effort to keep aerospace manufacturing in the
state. But, despite Chopp helping convene a special session for the
Boeing tax giveaway, Spear points out, the company nonetheless continues
to export local jobs.

"There are no special sessions for working people," says Spear. "Instead
they are ramming through votes for big corporations. Where is our
special session on transportation, homelessness, rent, or home

Spear also advocates that the legislature pass a rent control law that
would allow cities to temper exploding housing costs; she proposes a 1
or 2 percent cap on annual rent increases. Finally, she argues for
making the state's tax structure more progressive. Although Democrats
have long given lip service to reforming the tax code, Spear says, a
staunch elected advocate in Olympia can re-frame the tax debate for the
state much the way Sawant has done on the minimum-wage issue in Seattle.

Spear earned her masters degree in marine science at the University of
South Florida, a career she pursued with "an activist perspective," she
says. "I got into science because I wanted to do something about
[climate change], not just because it’s interesting." She studied
micro-fossil history to compare past climate change as an indicator of
future climate change. Spear moved to Seattle in spring of 2011, when
her husband got a job working for NOAA. But living on Capitol Hill, her
rent went up repeatedly and she was recently pushed into the Eastlake
neighborhood searching for lower rent. She is now an organizer of the
group 15 Now.

Spear is convinced that the progressive left currently has major
influence over Seattle politics, despite a recent poll that found
Socialist Alternative was the least credible group polled on the issue
of raising the minimum wage. (She argues it's actually a good sign that
one-sixth of the city even knows their group exists.)

Spear says the prospect of mandating $15-an-hour minimum wage was
ridiculed as a pipe dream a couple years ago. Since then—with waves of
fast-food strikes, labor union organizing, and socialist Sawant winning
a seat on the city council running on a platform of $15—the $15 minimum
wage issue has become an inevitable political reality.

"I think Frank Chopp is totally beatable," she says. "He is out of touch
with his district. If you look at what they said about Kshama Sawant,
they said it was impossible. They said $15 was impossible. But they were
wrong twice. The political situation has changed. People want an
alternative to politics as usual, and we can bring him down."

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