OLYMPIA — Frank Chopp’s reign as speaker of the state House of Representatives will end soon.
The Seattle Democrat, the longest serving speaker in state history and one of the most dominant forces in Washington politics since the turn of the century, intends to step down from the leadership post after the 2019 legislative session.
And when he goes, the male-only sign on the door to this seat of power will come down and a woman will be chosen to occupy it.
Bet on it.
In a state accustomed to electing Democratic and Republican women, the House speakership is a plateau of politics yet to be reached by any woman of either party.
Chopp’s exit after two decades is the opportunity to get there. And with women controlling a majority of the 57 seats in the Democratic caucus, one of them is going to do it.
But who it is promises to be an unending drama in the 105-day session, which gets under way Monday.
Will Democrats want someone with a progressive soul and pragmatic approach, kind of like Chopp? Or someone whose progressive ideology drives their political decision-making more than he has shown? How important is one’s temperament and skills at building ties to Republicans and alliances with Senate Democrats?
Right now it’s a wide-open contest. There are no declared candidates, only rumored ones. The decision won’t be made by the Democratic caucus until May.
Possible contenders now include Reps. June Robinson, of Everett, Laurie Jinkins, of Tacoma, Gael Tarleton, of Ballard, Tana Senn, of Mercer Island, Monica Stonier, of Vancouver, Tina Orwall, of Des Moines, and Christine Kilduff, of University Place. There are probably others.
Each will have a role in the coming session to set themselves apart.
Orwall is deputy speaker pro tem and Stonier is majority floor leader, which puts both in caucus leadership and assures each plenty of chances to showcase their style.
Robinson is on the appropriations committee and will be a central figure in the writing of the next two-year state budget, as she was two years ago. It requires getting deals done with those in the other party, the other chamber and in her caucus.
Jinkins will be in the spotlight as the leader of the committee set to tackle civil rights, criminal justice and gun control issues. It’s worth noting she probably earned goodwill in the midterm election with a political committee she formed. It contributed to 15 Democratic House and Senate candidates including House newcomers Jared Mead, of Mill Creek, and Dave Paul, of Oak Harbor.
Tarleton’s acumen will be tested as chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, the panel through which Democrats will shepherd any tax-raising ideas.
Senn will guide the Human Services and Early Learning Committee, which wrestles with policies related to child welfare, children’s mental health and substance abuse. And Kilduff will serve on committees led by Senn and Jinkins, giving her influence in shaping what policies emerge from those panels.
Rep. Shelley Kloba, D-Kirkland, is one woman in the caucus not seeking the gig. She wants lots of choices.
“My hope is we have some competition because I think that reflects that we have a deep bench,” she said. “I would hate to see us presented with only one option.”
That’s been the case for awhile. It won’t be this year.