On Tuesday Jessi Murray, former co-chair of the Seattle LGBTQ commission, announced her campaign to represent the 43rd Legislative District in Olympia, issuing a primary challenge to State House Rep. Frank Chopp, who has represented Capitol Hill in the legislature since 1994.
In a phone interview, Murray said her campaign will focus on housing, climate change, and health care policy. "We’re at a point where, despite valiant efforts, we have major problems we need to address in a systemic way," she said.
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As examples of the kind of systemic change she wants to champion, she listed free transit, legalizing more housing, increasing density while also stemming the effects of gentrification, and passing bills that make health care cheaper, more accessible, and more inclusive.
Murray added that her experience as a sexual assault survivor has informed her health care advocacy, but it also shaped her position on criminal justice. "I think we need more options for restorative justice and things of that nature for survivors to heal," she said.
For the last decade, the 32-year-old has lived in the district and worked as a technical program manager at software companies.
Murray said she recognizes the challenges of running against the former Speaker of the House, especially as a younger candidate.
"My age is going to be thrown at me, and it’s hard to compete on experience in this regard," she said. "But I have a lot of experience in leadership."
Murray pointed to her three years on the LGBTQ commission (which included two years serving as co-chair), her years as a precinct committee officer for the 43rd District Dems, and her year on the executive board of that organization.
She's also chaired the Seattle Ladies Choir, advocated for the Reproductive Health Access for All bill as a committee member with Northwest Abortion Access Fund, and organized the first SlutWalk Seattle in 2011.
In addition to all her advocacy work, Murray argued that her time working in the tech sector has given her more insight into ways the state needs to regulate the industry. "So far, tech companies have run away with certain things because they know the laws are too far behind," she said.
"I wouldn’t come to Olympia with a lot of political capital, but I would come in with a lot of political freedom. People should take a chance on me as someone who could listen, and step back, and think big, and maneuver in a way that’s novel and agile," she added.
The fact that a mustachioed heterosexual landlord has been representing Seattle's gayborhood for decades gave Murray another reason for running. "I represent the young, queer, car-free, renter portions of the 43rd that still need to be amplified in the legislature," she said.
Murray said she's raised over $20,000 after a week of fundraising.
Still, her competition will be pretty stiff.
Rep. Chopp was the longest-serving House Speaker in Washington state history—and the second-longest serving Speaker in the country. His colleagues credit him with rebuilding the Democratic majority in the House after a red wave swept through in 1994.
Though he hasn't faced a primary challenger since Socialist Jess Spear ran against him in 2014, Chopp won that contest with 82% of the vote and an endorsement from The Stranger.
Since stepping down as Speaker last year, the longtime rep has also been boosting his progressive bona fides. At a 43rd District town hall over the weekend, Chopp appeased Tax Amazon activists when he promised publicly to oppose any amendment to Rep. Nicole Macri's payroll tax proposal that would prevent Seattle from raising its own tax on big businesses.
And earlier this year, Chopp signed onto Macri’s rent stabilization bill in Olympia, but it didn't go anywhere. In an email, a spokesperson said he has long supported lifting the statewide ban on rent control, though that bill never went anywhere while he led the House, either.
Nevertheless, on the campaign trail Chopp will likely mention his role in co-founding the Housing Trust Fund, which has helped fund "about 80" housing projects in the district. Last year Chopp asked for another $200 million for the fund and ended up getting $175 million. He also spent tons of capital on securing hundreds of millions to reform the state's mental health care system.
That said, Chopp is also notorious for killing an untold number of progressive priorities over the course of his tenure, including a 2009 bill to decriminalize pot, anti-labor bills, and universal health care bills. He also famously wrote Tim Eyman's idiotic flat property tax into law after it died in committee, and last year blocked a bill to rid us of Eyman's deceptive advisory votes. So there will be plenty to discuss during this busy election season.