WASHINGTON STATE

HOUSE DEMOCRATS

Speaker Chopp’s Opening Day Speech

Frank Chopp, Washington House Speaker, Opening Day 2018
Washington Speaker of the House Frank Chopp. Photo: Washington LSS

 

2019 Legislative Session: Opening Remarks of Speaker Frank Chopp
[as prepared]

 

Thank you.

Pat, I greatly appreciate your kind words. You are such an important part of our success. Thank you for your leadership.

Every legislative session, our job is to represent the people.

This year, this House, will be the most representative of all our people, in state history!

Will the new members please stand? You have a duty to serve the people – of your district – and the entire state.

Will everyone please stand – everybody up! Let’s give the new members a rousing welcome!

The way we all got here is because of the support of our family and friends. I am so grateful for my wife, Nancy Long, and my daughter Ellie Chopp. Many families are here with us today.

Will they please stand? Let’s hear it for the families who support us in our work!

Let’s also recognize J. T. Wilcox, in his new leadership role. I look forward to working with you –

and your caucus.

* * *

We are all here to do our level best, to speak out for the people and to get things done.

That includes getting our own House in order.

Last year, a work group of members, staff, and lobbyists met to address sexual harassment

in our workplace. The group proposed:

  • A new Code of Conduct,
  • More training on prevention of harassment,
  • and a new independent resource to provide a safe place to share, find support, and set forth consequences when lines are crossed.

We are proud of this work and thankful to everyone who participated.

Together, we will create a workplace where everyone is treated with respect.

* * *

As we move forward to address the priorities of the people, it is important to remember what we’ve achieved these past years.

With our response to a constitutional challenge, we made historic investments and reforms in Basic Education.

By expanding and improving Early Learning, we made the wisest investment in a generation.

With our State Need Grant, Opportunity Scholarships, and the Dream Act, we are national leaders in student financial aid.

By creating and expanding Apple Health and the Washington State Health Exchange, we are covering more people than ever – including 98 percent of our kids!

With the Voting Rights Act and Vote By Mail, we led the way to increased participation here and across the country.

Through our paid family leave program, we enacted the most significant state expansion of Social Security ever!

Our investments in transportation and capital projects have created the most public works jobs in state history.

With Joel’s Law, Ricky’s Law, and Sheena’s Law, we improved the lives of so many who are suffering from mental illness and substance use disorder.

We have made things better for people in every corner of Washington.

* * *

This is about the basics:  Hope and opportunity for everyone!

  • Getting an education,
  • Caring for our health,
  • Creating jobs,
  • Having a home,
  • And building the community.

We have made so much progress!

But therein lies the imperative for our future work.

In 2007, for example, we enacted mental health parity – a great accomplishment.  But years later, we haven’t gotten close to achieving that promise.

If you have a heart attack, you expect that doctors, nurses, and hospitals will be there to care for you.

But, if you have a behavioral health emergency, you will face a shortage of health care providers.

Meanwhile, Western State Hospital has been de-certified.

And, if you’re homeless because of your health condition and you have nowhere to go – well, the answer is, “That’s just the way it is.”

This must change!

We must care for our minds as much as for our hearts!

It’s way past time that we invest more in our workforce. We must provide supportive housing, to save the lives of those at risk of death or trauma on our streets.

For example, there are a few thousand homeless young people, out of a population of over seven million in the state. We should not see them as isolated individuals, but as our own kids – in our own family.

For God’s sake, let’s meet this challenge to provide a home – and hope for all our kids.

 

We can do this!

* * *

Focusing on our kids, there is still work to be done for our schools.

The Supreme Court said that we met our paramount duty, thanks to the bipartisan work led by our Majority Leader. But, there is still work to do.

We must pay special attention to special education. We must increase graduation rates.

I’ve seen the recent work in Tacoma schools, and of its principals and teachers. With innovative ideas and targeted investments, they raised graduation rates, significantly!

It has been done in Tacoma, It can be done across the state.

We can do this!

* * *

Even with great progress in health care, there is still work to do.

I have served as a pallbearer for too many of my relatives in the cemeteries in Roslyn, their lives cut short by smoking.

We will work to raise the age to purchase tobacco to 21.

We should bring back our very successful Basic Health Plan, so that folks who don’t qualify for Medicaid or who don’t have employee benefits, can buy a good health plan at a good price.

We can do this!

* * *

We have some of the best colleges and universities in the nation. We have excellent apprenticeship and certificate programs.

But the best system available is not enough if students can’t afford to participate.

We must focus on students, not just institutions.

Let’s expand financial aid and help students being crushed by debt. Let’s create a Student Assistance Account to lower the interest rates on student loans, starting with degrees in high demand fields.

When I was a student at the UW, the National Defense Education Act helped me.  Because Sputnik flew overhead, I got a $3000 loan at 3 percent interest.

Today, we subsidize local street projects by lowering interest rates to 1 percent. But, our students are often paying 8 percent.

I ask you: Shouldn’t our young people be just as important as potholes?

We can do this!

* * *

Our world is changing. It’s getting warmer.

There’s a coalition forming in the Evergreen State, with advocates for clean air and champions of working people. We need clean air and good jobs.

At the age of 12, my Dad started work in the coalmines of Roslyn. Even then, times were changing.

The last coal mine closed in Roslyn 55 years ago. My Dad became a union electrician in the Bremerton shipyard, a blue collar job that provided well for our family.

Let’s create a better future: 100% clean electricity and investments in new jobs.

Green Power – Blue Collar.

We can do this!

* * *

Today, our statewide unemployment rate is low. Overall, the economy is humming. But, in rural parts of Washington, there are still inequities. Unemployment is higher. Drug addiction is epidemic.

That’s why we will pursue Rural Development, with a diverse agenda for jobs and communities. Culvert repairs to benefit the fish and local construction workers. Cross-laminated timber to construct our buildings and store carbon.

This should be cause for bipartisan work. If ever there was a time for this, it is now.

We can do this!

* * *

Twenty-four years ago, I had the good fortune to meet Bill Grant, a representative from Walla Walla. His family emigrated from Ireland five generations ago. My family emigrated from Croatia about a hundred years ago.

You might think a westside community activist and an eastern Washington wheat farmer would have little in common. And yet we did.

We both saw the potential of legislation to help people – regardless of where they came from.

Bill became my best friend in Olympia. It was Bill who blessed our guiding principle:  Working Together for One Washington.

Instead of favoring the districts of certain parties, we must look out for every part of our great state. Instead of ploys to divide urban from rural, or set one group against another, our job is to bring people together in common purpose!

To inspire our dedication, to overcome our doubts, and to dilute the venom of despair, we only need look to the people of Washington.

People like Cheri and Rob Marusa from South Cle Elum, who created Life Support for emergencies along I-90, and helped raise funding for Junior Achievement to teach financial education in Yakima.

Then there’s Alan Naiman, a state social worker, a former banker, who dedicated his work to helping children in need. He scrimped and saved on a modest wage. He patched his shoes with duct tape.

When he passed away last year, he left $11 million to non-profit agencies who care for young people.

Then there’s Mandy Manning from Ferris High School in Spokane, who was selected as the State and National Teacher of the Year. She teaches math and English language, for refugee and immigrant students.

Mandy is now on a yearlong trip around the United States, serving as a voice for these New Americans.

One more example: The partnership in Pierce County that recently broke ground for the Arlington Drive Campus for Homeless Youth and Young Adults.

Michael Mirra of the Tacoma Housing Authority; Mayor Victoria Woodard; County Executive

Bruce Dammeier; the YMCA; Community Youth Services; and legislators including Laurie Jinkins,

Jeannie Darnielle, and Hans Zeiger – are all part of that partnership.

It is so inspiring! They are doing the Lord’s work, lighting the way home for a better future for these children and the entire community.

Michael and others are in the gallery. So are Cheri and Rob. Would they stand to be recognized?

* * *

Here in the legislature, we must do our part to respond to the compelling challenges of our time.

With renewed commitment to One Washington, with the energy of our new members, and with a sense of optimism and hope: We can do this!

Let’s get to work! Thank you.

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