Frank Chopp talks down to students.
  • Frank Chopp: condescending to students.

Yesterday, the Associated Students of University of Washington (ASUW), which represents over 30,000 UW undergrads, hosted a student empowerment banquet, and in doing so, they managed to do something that the Seattle City Council doesn't often attempt: They brought Seattle's legislative delegation to the table to fight for their issues. But they were to be disappointed. Even though the students came armed with three detailed, specific legislative proposals in preparation for the special session that begins in three weeks, their legislators seemed blindsided, uninformed, and tone deaf.

In brief, their proposals: (1) Cut $80 million in annual tax exemptions for large tech firms that benefit most from a strong in-state education system; (2) grant community colleges the authority to ask their communities for funding using property tax levies; (3) allow the UW's $1.83 billion endowment to invest in something other than government bonds to make more money.

But when asked what he thought of those proposals, House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-43) said "I'll comment when I read them."

Which was surprising, considering these proposals had been out for a full day and Chopp was one of the banquet's featured speakers. Instead of addressing smart proposals, Chopp delivered a condescending speech about the basics of lobbying the legislature (to a savvy student body who just pulled together a banquet of power players and a host of well-researched proposals). It was like lecturing Julia Child on how to boil an egg.

In addition to his central role in legislative affairs as House Speaker, Chopp also represents the 43rd district, which includes the University of Washington. In the past three years, state funding for UW has been cut by 50 percent.

But rather than take responsibility or talk about a road map out of this spiral of defunding education, Chopp talked for 20 minutes in platitudes about "human infrastructure," "jobs," "opportunity," "creativity," "boredom," and "accountability." He talked about how he makes his caucus stand and applaud student speakers because it makes everyone feel good. He encouraged students to think of themselves as more than "just" students. His only sentence that actually related to the students' legislative agenda (his understanding evidently gleaned from ASUW Government Relations director Andrew Lewis' intro): "I want to thank you for including the community colleges in your effort."

He ended on this note: "Yes, times are tough, but don't get depressed. Get organized. Get energized." He couldn't have found a room in Seattle with more organized and energized students, with more concrete, sellable, well-designed policy—and he disappointed them by not putting half the effort into the evening that they obviously had.

One member of my table said it was the third time he'd heard this speech. Searching for concrete meaning amidst the generic bullshit, I asked Adam Sherman, Vice President of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, for comment: "He will set the tone in the house, and where he comes down on this will set the tone for where this thing will go in the future."

Well, Jesus. That doesn't bode well.

Other representatives in attendance offered guarded support for the UW proposals—Representative Hans Zeiger (R-25) said that he was "sympathetic to" closing loopholes on large tech firms, and "intrigued by" new community college levy authority. Legislative wunderkind Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34) had some choice waffling to offer: Although he could get behind all three proposals with some minor quibbles, "You can't ever look at one section of the budget in a vacuum." Well played, Padawan.