Sherae Lascelles displaying some soup for their family.
Sherae Lascelles displaying some soup for their family. Screenshot from Stranger Debates

The final installment of the Stranger Debate series was full of surprises. Appropriately enough for the week before Halloween (and perhaps the end of our Democratic Republic), most of those surprises were slightly unnerving, uncomfortable, chaotic, and yet somewhat absolutely thrilling.

The first surprise was The Stranger audience selecting Rep. Frank Chopp as the winner of the debate. The longtime Democratic House Speaker, who stepped down from that role last year, beat Stranger-endorsed challenger Sherae Lascelles 57% to 43%, with 136 voters weighing in. Maybe Chopp packed the court, or maybe he just made the better case for himself last night—it was honestly kinda hard to tell.

As is typical with these Seattle-area State House races, both candidates agreed on a lot of policy. Both plan to champion single-payer health care, both want to decriminalize sex work, both want to invest in publicly owned housing, both want to cap rent increases at 2% (!!), both want to enact good-cause eviction protections statewide, both want to legalize apartments in single-family zones, and both back a wealth tax.

Neither candidate claimed to have killed anything too big or too weird; Lascelles said rabbit, Chopp said garter snake. They both labeled the Every Night Direct Demonstrators "underrated," though I'm not convinced Chopp knows who ENDD is given his belief that civility is "underrated." Unless, of course, he thinks occasionally smashing a Starbucks window or a Whole Foods window constitutes civility. If there's a case to be made there, and I believe there is, Chopp didn't make it last night.

But in somewhat of a twist, though Lascelles cited passing progressive taxation as their first priority in office, they didn't seem to know how much they wanted to tax the profits of stock sales. When asked how much the state should tax capital gains, they adopted a guessing tone and said "5%," which is low compared to current proposals.

And even though Democrats run the House, the Senate, and the Governor's mansion with large majorities, Lascelles said they'd "have to" work with Republicans to pass bills "because they're our colleagues," and because they represent people from other parts of the state.

Meanwhile, Rep. Chopp said he'd tax capital gains at 10%—still low compared to California, but better than a guess of 5%—and said Democrats don't have to work with Republicans when they have clear progressive majorities, which will very likely remain the case in January.

Kind of on the same tip, they both pitched themselves as "change" candidates, which is laughable considering Chopp's 25 years in the seat, but Chopp did come through in the moment with more specifics.

Chopp said he plans to push the Treatment and Recovery Act (which transformed from an initiative campaign into a bill sometime over the summer) as his first priority next year, he advocated for his social security for children plan, and he said he'd continue his work on housing—all while pointing to concrete successes along the way, and even reciting a simple but touching poem during the talent section about the way he transformed his early housing activism into actual housing.

Lascelles's talent was chugging a "White Monster" energy drink while having someone in a hammerhead shark suit building a wall made of soup cans behind them during the entire course of the event. Lascelles uses the cans as a campaign gimmick / public art piece, and they said maybe "5 or 6" people voted after reading the cans, which is of course good for democracy. It was an incredible show moment, and it evinces an embrace of chaos I find thrilling, but... it wasn't much of a talent.

Lascelles has also been running on their strength as a sex worker advocate, but I had trouble distinguishing their plan to decriminalize sex from basically just generally lobbying lawmakers in Olympia.

And when asked to make the case for the importance of representation in the legislature, they made a strong personal argument for the benefits of electing to the State House a candidate with lived experience, but they stopped short of showing specifically how that lived experience would shield them against lobbyists and Republicans looking to water down progressive legislation, or how that experience would specifically guide their policymaking.

"I’m a renter who is a couple pieces of paper away from being unsheltered in this time," they said. "There's something about being in the fox hole with others that makes sure you’re looking out. I’m in the foxhole." That's a powerful line, and they deliver it in a way that makes me believe them when they say it, and I know that the Lascelles campaign likes a lot of good policy, and they can cite clear wins as a nonprofit leader, but they just didn't do much of that last night.

Of course, though Chopp talked a good game, some of it did seem like just talk. When asked to name a bill he regretted killing or watering down, he threw a governor under the bus and said he shouldn't have passed legislation that closed down a residential rehabilitation center despite initially refusing to close down any of them. "That was a mistake, and that shouldn’t have been done." Fair enough, and good on him for the admission, but I was kind of expecting something a little broader, such as an expression of regret for squandering Democratic supermajorities by killing all kinds of progressive legislation in 2007. And of course, sometimes the problem with Chopp wasn't the bills he killed but rather the bills he kept alive, such as Tim Eyman's ridiculous 1% property tax cap. Property tax isn't the most progressive of taxes, of course, but it's a little better than having to raise the sales tax all the fucking time.

Anyway, the Dungeons and Dragons sections also felt notable in that last night amounted to the first time in the short history of the Stranger Debates series where the party chose death over working together to solve a problem. Lascelles dressed as "Bluthulu" and played the role of a mind-flayer during the game, and Chopp dressed as a viking and played the role of a dwarven warrior named Zhigo Applehealth.

As a dragon carried off Lascelles, Chopp attempted to use his strength to pry them away from the dragon's clutches. Chopp, however, took a little too long to propose a way to save Lascelles. Before he could offer a solution, Lascelles jumped in and said, "I've already died...you were too slow." They then took the opportunity to quash the "white savior" narrative that would have played out had Chopp successfully rolled to release Lascelles from the dragon, and they said they'd rest easy in death knowing that another member of the movement would rise again to replace them. If that's not a perfect metaphor for the relationship between Democrats in Olympia and the struggling people of Washington state, then I don't know what is.


This Stranger Debate was sponsored by the ACLU of Washington, the University Book Store, and The Reef Cannabis.

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