State House speaker talks harassment

  • Wednesday, January 31, 2018 2:14pm
  • Opinion

Since the turn of the century, no one’s dominated the legislating landscape quite like House Speaker Frank Chopp.

In his reign, the Seattle Democrat has thwarted Republicans, frustrated governors and, at some point, angered most if not every member of his caucus the past 18 sessions for quashing one or more of their initiatives.

Under the Capitol dome, his wizardry of the political craft is unequalled. He became co-speaker in 1999 when the two parties shared power. He’s been the only Speaker since 2002 and is the longest to serve in the post in state history.

There are whispers he’ll quit when his term ends this year — which makes him laugh.

“I clearly am going to run for re-election,” he said in a recent conversation. “Absolutely.”

There were few other absolutes in a dialogue including the House’s handling sexual harassment allegations and whether he’s ever been accused of inappropriate behavior.

Here are excerpts, edited for clarity and space.

Q: What was your reaction when House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen’s revealed earlier this month that he was sexually harassed?

A: That was news to me. I think other people were surprised as well

Q: Has any House member been accused of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior since the session began?

A: No. Listen, we take this issue very seriously and will take appropriate action if we need to. We have to work very strongly to prevent sexual harassment or any other kind of harassment. That means not only that we have the right policies — and it appears that we have pretty strong policies — but we need regular and ongoing training to make clear what is appropriate and what is not appropriate.

Q: What more do you see the House doing?

A: We’re interested in the idea of having a place outside the Legislature that staff, members and lobbyists could go if they have a concern or complaint. You have to work out details of how it would be structured, how it would run, how would we pay for it and would they have any legal authority. You want to make sure the person has a place to go and there is a person who can work with them in good faith to address it.

Q: Several women have accused former Democratic lawmaker Brendan Williams (2005-10) of sexual harassment and assault. I’ve been told some House leaders were concerned enough about his behavior that they spoke with him. Did you ever talk to him?

A: We did not hear about those complaints until it came out. I mean, look, there’s been lots of people interacting with Brendan over the years, I didn’t interact with him much. I don’t know if you remember but he was not necessarily my greatest fan. I didn’t talk to him much.

Q: Have you ever been accused of inappropriate behavior?

A: Not that I am aware.

Q: OK, let’s finish with the big question on many minds: Is this your last session?

A: I clearly am going to run for re-election. Absolutely. I am so excited about the issues that I have been involved in.

Q: Why do the rumors persist?

A: They’ve been going on for at least 12 years. That’s when a state senator made a pronouncement that “Frank will be retiring for sure this year.” I laughed. I said, “We’ll see.” It’s just gossip. I am very excited about the work we’re doing. I’ve got so much energy it’s ridiculous.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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