Guest opinion: House speaker stands down after 20-plus years

The Frank Chopp era is over.

Washington state’s longest-serving speaker of the state House of Representatives quietly exited on Friday, May 3, from the seat of power he occupied through two decades.

The Seattle Democrat who evolved into one of the most dominant political forces in state history during his reign submitted a short resignation note to the chief clerk, collected a few last belongings and by early afternoon had cleared out of the office.

And the John Lovick era began.

That same Friday afternoon workers scraped Chopp’s name from the door and put up Lovick’s along with the title Acting Speaker.

Lovick, a Mill Creek Democrat and former Snohomish County executive, moved in Monday, May 6, making history the moment he sat down.

He is black, the first person of color to be given the duties and responsibilities of House Speaker. Though the gig is temporary — he’ll serve until January when a new speaker is elected by the full House — it’s no less a barrier-breaking accomplishment.

“I am proud to stand on the broad shoulders of a lot of people who served (in the Legislature) before me,” Lovick said.

Before Chopp departed, the two men spent a couple hours going over the levers of power Lovick would control. On Lovick’s first day, he made a point to meet the men and women employees, partisan and non-partisan, who are the gears of the legislative machinery he’ll be steering.

“There’s so much structure in place,” Lovick said. “This is a well-oiled machine that runs exceptionally well.”

This is not going to be easy.

Lovick spent part of the first week wrestling with separate reviews of two House members.

One involves Democratic Rep. Jeff Morris of Mount Vernon. A complaint concerning Morris’ managerial manners prompted caucus leaders late last year to launch a fact-finding inquiry and likely contributed to the veteran lawmaker losing a committee chairmanship in the 2019 session.

That report is finished and some of its recommendations are getting implemented. Yet the report, including its findings and recommendations, hasn’t been released despite requests from reporters.

“I want to look at it, read it myself,” Lovick said. He also said he wanted to talk with House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, and caucus Chairman Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, on Wednesday May 8 about the situation. “I want to be sure this is done properly.”

The other involves an investigation of Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane. This is a little more complicated.

Shea is not accused of any wrongdoing in the workplace. The conservative’s political behavior is inciting the probe.

The Guardian newspaper has reported that Shea engaged in Internet chats in 2017 with three other men proposing to confront “leftists” with a variety of tactics, including violence, surveillance and intimidation.

Recently, 55 Democratic state lawmakers, including Lovick, called on House Republican leaders to reprimand Shea for what they view as his abhorrent action. A few Democrats wanted to vote for Shea’s expulsion in the session — but Chopp didn’t let that happen.

However, before Chopp left, he did make sure Chief Clerk Bernard Dean got the go-ahead to look into what transpired. Dean said he’s evaluating what kind of private investigator to hire since the concerns center on Shea’s actions outside the legislative workplace. It could be weeks before anyone is selected, he said.

Lovick wants to tread cautiously.

“I frankly don’t think there’s any reason not to afford (Shea) his due process,” said Lovick, a retired state trooper and former Snohomish County sheriff.

It’s only been a couple days, but Lovick is relishing his new role. He’s also aware how big the shoes he’s filling.

“Frank’s a good friend,” he said. “Moving into the office that Frank’s been in for 20 years, it’s very difficult for me.”

Contact The Herald (Everett) columnist Jerry Cornfield at 360-352-8623, jcornfield@herald net.com or on Twitter, @dospueblos.

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