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Friday, May 21, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Danny Westneat / Times staff columnist

Republican stirs breeze of change

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Politics in the heart of Seattle is like the old Soviet Politburo: rigid, stagnant, lacking any meaningful debate.

On "Election Day," voters often get ballots with only one candidate — a Democrat — listed for each state legislative office.

Consider the 43rd District of the Wallingford, Capitol Hill, Fremont area. Its two state representatives have gotten vote totals that would make a dictator blush — 100 percent — in every general election since 1996.

The only choice available for voters has been to scratch out the Democratic candidate and write in someone else.

Until now.

For the first time in a decade, a Republican, Mark Griswold, 24, is campaigning in the state's most liberal stronghold.

His goal: Unseat the speaker of the state House, Democrat Frank Chopp. If he were to do it, he would be the first Republican elected in the 43rd since 1974.

If that's not ambitious enough, Griswold also wants to "show the people of Seattle that 'Republican' does not equal 'evil.' "

I met Griswold the other day for lunch. I was suspicious he was a patsy, recruited by GOP officials solely to distract Chopp. The idea is to force Chopp to spend resources campaigning in his own district, rather than helping Democrats around the state.

But I came away convinced this jug-eared Seattle University senior is the real deal. So what if he can't win? He is one of the first signs of Republican life in years in Seattle, a city that's home to only one GOP elected official, King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng.

Griswold knows his chances of winning are all but nonexistent. He's running to prove that voters want to hear another voice. The one-party, interest-group-dominated political scene in Seattle is "stifling for democracy," he says.

He's got a point. The other representative in the 43rd, Ed Murray, was appointed to his seat and has been in office for nine years without ever facing a single opponent, in either a primary or general election.

"It's true, it's been years and years since I've knocked on doors or spent any time campaigning in my own district," Murray said.

Griswold is smart and energetic. He plans to doorbell 20,000 homes by November. He's home-grown, raised in Madison Park.

His politics should appeal to moderates and independents. He supports gay marriage and abortion rights, backs the creation of charter schools and wants to help small businesses by lowering taxes and fees.

He won't get much help. When I called the 43rd District GOP (actual motto: "You Are Not Alone"), the chairman begged me not to print his name. He runs a business that contracts with Seattle government, and fears retribution if it's known he's a Republican.

Good grief. I thought I was kidding when I compared Seattle to the Soviet Union.

Chopp rose to speaker in only five years. He probably deserves to be re-elected, but nobody should be handed the job without a test.

I urge you, regardless of your politics, go to www.griswoldforrep.org and give this guy a word of encouragement.

In the group-think of Seattle politics, he's about the only diversity we've got.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at dwestneat@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2086.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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