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Frank Chopp
Frank Chopp

Frank Chopp, the speaker of the Washington House, has been an important figure in Washington politics for some years – most of a decade anyway – but he’s not been particularly a household name, unless your house is in Olympia or maybe Chopp’s 43rd district in Seattle. But now it seems to be getting that way, which is something he may relish or would rather go away.

His importance, as builder, solidifier and governor of the Democratic majority in the House, has been accepted in political spheres for some time. (So has his larger than life personality, and patterns of communication some writers have started to call Choppisms.) But few legislators emerge into the larger public consciousness even so.

This year, Puget Sound people have begun seeing headlines about Chopp’s role on the Alaskan Way dispute – if Chopp doesn’t want it, it’s dead. The sense you got was of not only outsized personality, but of outsized power.

What the Slog and the Olympian are now reporting about Chopp and his dealings with two other legislators could take that image a step further.

It has to do with a bill that would allow homeowners to sue the builder of their house (under certain circumstances), and its prime legislative backers, Senator Brian Weinstein (D-Mercer Island) and Representative Brendan Williams (D-Olympia). Weinstein started the action last year, got a thumbs-up on the bill idea from Chopp, worked with Williams on it, and got it passed through the Senate. When it got to the House, Chopp tabled it.

Why? Depends on who you ask and how you frame it. Chopp has discussed recrafting the bill this year, working with industry people among others. Weinstein is quoted by the Slog as alleging Chopp cut a deal of some kind with the Building Industry Association of Washington, a well-heeled and ordinarily Republican group.

Our main point here, though, is how furious Weinstein and Williams are. Williams, according to the Olympian, talked about quitting the House in frustration. And Weinstein . . . had plenty to say to the Slog, including: “This is democracy at its worst. Here is one guy that overruled 30 Democratic Senators and the Democratic House Judiciary Committee. What’s the point of working hard on a bill? 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. I feel helpless.”

Expect that quote to be referenced next campaign, and not by Democrats. Frank Chopp seems about to become something more than simply a legislator: An issue.

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