Affirmative Action Passes in Washington State After 20-Year Ban

Some complain of reverse discrimination and the diminishing of merit-based systems while others called for people to stop closing their eyes to institutionalized racism.

Affirmative action has been illegal in Washington since a 1998 initiative overturned an earlier version of the policy. Now a new initiative will work to dissolve barriers in employment, education and contracting for people of color, women, people with disabilities, veterans, people with diverse sexual orientations, ages, and ethnicities.

Initiative 1000 impacts practices in recruitment, hiring, training, promotion, outreach, setting and achieving goals and timetables, and other measures designed to increase Washington’s diversity.

Former Democratic Govs. Chris Gregoire and Gary Locke, as well as former Republican Gov. Dan Evans,  backed the measure.

“This is a wonderfully designed initiative,” Evans said. “It doesn’t have set-asides, it doesn’t have quotas, but it does give people a boost when they need it.”

Freshman Sen. Joe Nguyen, a Democrat from White Center who noted he was the son of refugees, said, “We want to be able to be successful, just like anybody else.” His own position as a state legislator, Nguyen added, wasn’t only a factor of his own effort.

“It didn’t just take hard work, it took opportunity as well,” he said.

“We can’t close our eyes to say there’s no racism, or there’s no institutionalized racism or institutionalized barriers because there are,” said  Sen. Bob Hasegawa, (D-Seattle). “And the statistics show up in the criminal justice system, the education system, from top to bottom.”

The coalition for repeal says the 1998 initiative has proven costly to women and minority-owned businesses.

According to the Washington State Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises, businesses run by women and minorities have only represented between 1 and 3% of state contracting dollars, “which is far below current and historical established goals.”

In the five years before the initiative passed, the state was spending 10 percent of its contracting dollars with those businesses.

Since 1998 women and minority businesses decreased by half.

“If the annual percentage had continued to average 10 percent, small minority- and women-owned businesses would have made $3.5 billion dollars more,” the analysis concluded.

No current Republicans favored the I-1000 measure and claimed discrimination and discounts of merit.

This is not unlike other arguments from Trump claiming reverse racism when Black folks have spoken against his policies or asked him questions about his nationalism.

“This initiative divides us,” said Rep. Brandon Vick, a Vancouver Republican who spoke against the measure ahead of the House vote. “With this change, we’re saying that race matters more than merit. This is diversity through discrimination, plain and simple.”

Senate GOP Deputy Minority Leader Sharon Brown of Kennewick said she taught her mixed-race children to achieve their goals through hard work.

“They don’t want a seat on the corporate board because of their race, because of their gender, they want it because of their experience,” said Brown. “They want it because of their merit.”

The House approved I-1000 anyway, 56 to 42, and the Senate passed it 26 to 22.

This new bill that overturns I-200 which blocked the government from giving preferential treatment to, or discriminating against, people and groups on the basis of sex, ethnicity, color, race or national origin. Washington was the second state after California to adopt a ban on race or gender-based preferential treatment.

It says it will “guarantee every resident of Washington state equal opportunity and access to public education, public employment, and public contracting without discrimination based on their race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sexual orientation, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or honorably discharged veteran or military status.”

Metropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Gossett said in a statement, “Last night, the legislators heeded that call, adopting I-1000 and ending the two decades of the onerous barriers that I-200 created for people of color, underserved populations, women, and veterans.”

Opponents filed a referendum to force a popular vote on the measure and will have 90 days to gather 129,811 valid signatures for a chance to overturn the decision in November and let the public decide.