Speaker Frank Chopp has gone invisible to the public, but we are about to see how well he can keep his large majority together.
Editors note: To celebrate Crosscut's 10th anniversary as a local news organization, so we are featuring the stories from April 1, 2007 on our homepage.
For my first foray into these Crosscut reports, I want to focus on Democratic one-party rule in Olympia. Speaker of the House Frank Chopp is generally regarded as the most powerful member of the Washington Legislature. Not an easy man to judge, since Chopp spends most of his time — at least from my observation — in private meetings and behind closed doors with his caucus (oh, boy do Democrats like to caucus!).
He rarely presides over the House floor debates, leaving that job to Speaker Pro Tem John Lovick. Speaker Chopp wields great power, operates largely behind-the-scenes, and his party rules Olympia by a wide margin. Perhaps more than anyone else in Olympia, Chopp needs to be held to account by the press. And yet of late Chopp has been largely unavailable to the statehouse press corps.
At the beginning of the legislative session, Chopp held weekly, informal press conferences in his corner office in the Capitol. Then came the day he made a churlish, off-the-cuff remark about NASCAR legend Richard Petty (something to do with drunken driving, which wasn't true). It got reported and after that Chopp cancelled his weekly press briefings.