Washington House Speaker Frank Chopp to step down as leader next spring

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Longtime Washington state House Speaker Frank Chopp announced Tuesday that he will step down from his leadership post next spring, but will continue to serve in the chamber.

The Seattle Democrat is the longest longest-serving speaker of the House. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Chopp is the second longest-serving House speaker in the nation, second only to Speaker Michael Madigan in Illinois.

In a statement Chopp said that it was "time to step aside so that I can focus more energy on the issues that matter most and are priorities for the caucus."

He cited work he was proud of during his time as speaker, including the passage of paid family leave and money allocated for affordable housing programs.

"It's been an honor to serve as the state's Speaker and to work with so many dedicated legislators on both sides of the aisle," Chopp wrote.

A new speaker will be chosen by the caucus and voted on by the full chamber sometime before the end of the 105-day legislative session that begins in January, spokesman Jim Richards said.

Chopp, 65, was first elected to the House in 1994. He became minority leader in his second term. After Democrats won more seats in the chamber and pulled into a tie, he became co-speaker, sharing the gavel with Republican Clyde Ballard of East Wenatchee. Democrats won a special election in 2001, and Chopp was installed as speaker.

While Chopp had a narrow majority when he first started as sole speaker, he saw his majority increase dramatically over the next several years, until it reached its high mark of 63 seats in 2008. But he saw his party's advantage in the chamber dwindle in following elections, so much so that this past year his majority matched the one he first oversaw as sole speaker: 50-48.

His decision to step aside comes after an election cycle that increased the Democratic majority in the House by seven seats.

Chopp won his own November re-election bid to the 43rd District in Seattle with 89 percent of the vote. The district, among the most liberal in Washington, takes in Capitol Hill, the University District and Wallingford.

Over the past decade, the only race in which Chopp captured less than 80 percent of the vote was in 2012, when he beat socialist Kshama Sawant — now a member of the Seattle City Council — with 71 percent of the vote.

Rep. J.T. Wilcox, the Republican leader in the House, said Chopp was a "historic figure."

"I've learned a lot from watching him," Wilcox said. "One of the things I admire about Frank is that he is kind of the last link to the Democratic party that really represented people clear across the state. He was concerned about looking at things statewide."