RENT CONTROL Probably an appealing campaign plank to the residents of Capitol Hill.
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  • RENT CONTROL Probably an appealing campaign plank to the residents of Capitol Hill.

In 2012, at the Vermillion Art Gallery on Capitol Hill, a little-known Seattle Central Community College economics professor launched an unlikely campaign against Washington House Speaker Frank Chopp to represent the 43rd District—which includes Capitol Hill—at the state level. According to her campaign manager, she only had a paltry $22,000 campaign budget but she ended up with 27% of the vote. That was startling not only because Chopp is one of the most powerful men in the state, but because she ran as an out-and-proud socialist. Her name? Kshama Sawant.

The following year, Sawant ran for office again, this time against longtime Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin. You know the rest of the story.

This year, climate researcher and former 15 Now Director Jess Spear is looking to succeed where Sawant fell short in 2012. On Saturday, in pursuit of that goal, a crowd of a few dozen supporters packed into Vermillion (currently showing a delightful retro arcade art series) for Spear's campaign launch party. While Sawant ran on a relative shoe-string budget, Spear's campaign plans to raise $150,000 to challenge Chopp. That means more mailers, more knocked-on doors, and perhaps even a TV ad. (So far, the Spear campaign has raised $10,000, while Chopp, according to public records, has raised nearly $96,000.)

"If the labor movement gets off their butts, and doesn't criminally support [the Democrats] and supports an independent working class candidate, it will crush the argument that this is a one off fluke," said Philip Locker, previously Sawant's campaign manager and now Spear's. (SEIU 775, which intermittently allied itself with Sawant during the Seattle minimum wage fight, has endorsed Chopp.)

Standing on a bench overlooking a crowd, Danielle Askini from the Gender Justice League (representing herself, not the organization) tied the struggle for affordable housing and social services to trans rights and announced her endorsement of Spear.

Then Council Member Kshama Sawant rose to endorse Spear and tied the campaign launch to the weekend's Pride marches. "It doesn't matter if you're gay or straight or gender non-conforming or not," Sawant said. "All that matters is whether you're fighting for social justice."

Sawant continued, laying out the impact of a Spear victory. "Imagine the fear that it would strike into the hearts of the establishment," Sawant said. "Let that drive us." The Spear supporters, in a quick fundraising drive, pledged about $5,000 in campaign contributions right there, on the spot.

Finally, Spear got up on the bench and explained why she'll ask voters to "chop Chopp": "He says we don't have the support we need... and once we hit some magical threshold, [then] we'll be able to fight for progressive taxation."

Spear continued: "We don't wait for some magical time to raise an issue." Like the socialists did on the minimum wage, she said, she'll "dare big business to come up against us." Affordable housing and mass transit won't get pushed onto the backburner, she vowed, and she promised to fight against homelessness, oil and coal trains, and corporate welfare.

Spear's campaign platform also includes rent control, which Sawant has long called for but is barred from enacting at the municipal level without changes to state law. I'm no political consultant, but rent control got one of the loudest cheers of the evening, and you have to imagine that it will resonate far more with the people of Capitol Hill than attacks on Chopp over his support—though it's totally repulsive!—for last year's $8.7 billion Boeing tax break.

In a statement to The Stranger, Chopp said, "I have fought against corporate attacks on unemployment insurance and workers compensation for injured workers. I have closed tax loopholes on Wall Street banks, high tech companies, and Big Oil. I led the way for health care for all through Washington Apple Health, including 800,000 young people." Specifically, he touted the creation of the State Housing Trust Fund. "These are just some of a long list of my progressive accomplishments."