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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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March 10, 2008 1:18 PM

Liberal bloggers unhappy with Demo speaker

Posted by David Postman

I have done little reporting on this year’s legislative session. The presidential primary season kept my attention focused elsewhere. But with the Legislature set to adjourn Thursday, I figure it's now or never.

In one respect I see little has changed since in the nearly year since the 2007 Legislature adjourned. A homeowner’s bill of rights is apparently dead in the House - just as dead as it was last year.

This is a bill pushed by Sen. Brian Weinstein, D-Mercer Island, and opposed by homebuilders and, it seems, by House Speaker Frank Chopp. Chopp at least doesn’t think it’s yet time to pass the bill that would allow buyers of new homes to sue for defects.

I’m not shocked by this. Last year Chopp only gave the slightest indication that something might happen this year.

"I'm suggesting we work through the interim" and come back in the next session or two with a bill that could be passed unanimously, he said.

It will be “or two” at least. And that has liberal Democrats ticked off at Chopp. The primary rouser of the rabble has been The Stranger’s Josh Feit. His coverage of this year’s session has regularly looked at what Chopp was doing or not doing with left-leaning bills. And last week Feit headlined a post on the Weinstein bill this way:

Oly Inaction: Chopp is Stalling Again

But no one has written more words about the bill than Andrew Villeneuve at the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog Version 3.8. He says “it pains us to have to do this. We don't enjoy criticizing or admonishing Democrats in public - at all.”

I can vouch for that. Villeneuve uses his blog more to cheer Democrats on than to beat them into submission. A lot of the left’s unhappiness with Chopp on this bill is that the prime opponent is the Building Industry Association of Washington, a major conservative political force in the state. Villeneuve writes:

They're not interested in a meaningful exchange of ideas or the common good. They are greedy, they are selfish, and they give no quarter. Their meanness knows no bounds.

They abhor progressive values and despise Democrats. They are against the American way. They don't care about democratic tradition or the rule of law.

He says he’s tired of Chopp’s excuses and stalling.

He has a series of stories from unhappy homeowners. And he says lack of action on the homeowner’s bill of rights is “an outrage and a slap in the face to the thousands of Washington families who have suffered, lost their health, their ability to put their children through college, and their life's savings because of serious defects with their homes.”

David Goldstein at horsesass.org has also weighed in, saying Chopp is overly concerned about the BIAW.

Now, I don’t know if Chopp is simply afraid of the BIAW, or if he’s worked out some kind of a deal with them in which he’s promised not to pass the bill, but that’s the only reasonable explanation for Chopp’s intransigence on a bill that merely gives buyers of single family homes the same rights condo owners have enjoyed since 1990.

Goldstein asks the central question about Chopp’s leadership of the Democratic majority:

when he’s so clearly caving to the BIAW on such an uncontroversial scrap of necessary consumer protection, one has to wonder if Chopp’s focus on building a majority is getting in the way of his willingness to use it?

I'm not sure why supporters of this bill focus only on Chopp. If stopping the bill is such a violation of Democratic principles - because it is good policy and good politics apparently - why aren't members of the House majority speaking out? It's not just members of the Rules Committee who decide these things. If the Speaker really is acting against the interests of the majority, the majority has the right to challenge the decision. If you have enough votes you can force a vote on any bill. While some have said they are unhappy there is a hold on the homeowner's warranty, I have yet to hear any Democratic member say that Chopp is abusing his power or is not acting in the best interest of his caucus.

It’s not just the bloggers who pin the blame on Chopp. KOMO TV’s Keith Eldridge made the same thing clear in a “Problem Solvers” report he did on the bill. Eldridge tried to talk to Chopp “but the Speaker would not come out of his office for comment.” He had to settle for some slo-mo video of Chopp walking by.

The bill is SB 6385. Last year, opponents said that there needed to be a “a study bill to work out the problems,” according to the House committee report on the bill. “There needs to be a worked out approach everyone can agree to such as the condo act which took four years to negotiate.”

The same message came in testimony this year. The summary of opponents’ arguments said:

This type of major policy change shouldn't be rushed through on such short notice with little time to examine its impact. You need to evaluate the information that is out there to determine what the problem is and how it should be addressed.

Here are the people and organizations shown as opposing the bill:

Kevin Coker, American Institute of Building Design; Amy Brackenbury and Shelli Lucus-Kennedy, Building Industry Association of Washington; Daimon Doyle; Cliff Webster, Architects and Engineers Legislative Council; Mel Sorensen, Washington Defense Trial Lawyers; and Stan Bowman, American Institute of Architects of Washington Council.

UPDATE: Feit posted more today about Chopp and bills that have died in the House. And he linked to a story he wrote last year. In reminiscing about last year’s story, Feit makes the point for me that Chopp shouldn’t bear all the brunt of unhappy liberals.

When this ran last year, Chopp was super pissed, and his sycophantic colleagues, who were more than happy to criticize him off the record, cheered him in caucus when he ridiculed the story.

Here’s what I said last year and what still holds true today:

The House speaker — as the case with any speaker — is only as powerful as his members allow him to be. To portray Chopp as a dictator excuses the 61 other members of the Democratic caucus from any responsibility. And frankly that's part of what Chopp wants to do — shield members from criticism to help them get re-elected.

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