By Aaron Allen
The Seattle Medium
Initiative I-1000 has passed! On April 28 both houses of the Washington State Legislature passed the long-fought initiative bringing back into law Affirmative Action in the state. The initiative passed the Senate by a vote of 26-22, and the House by a vote of 56-42.
King County Councilmember Larry Gossett chimed in after hearing the news with a congratulatory flavor by stating, “Almost 400,000 signatures were presented in support of I-1000. Those signatures represented a call, a call of the people demanding the State Legislature act on removing many of the barriers that I-200 created for people of color, underserved populations, women, and veterans wanting to expand opportunities available to them.”
“The legislators heeded that call, adopting I-1000,” says Gossett.
Local affirmative action advocates achieved a major milestone in their attempt undue the impact that I-200, an anti-affirmative action initiative passed by Washington state voters 1998. I-200 eliminated affirmative action from hiring practices and awarding minority business government contracts and education enrollment based on race, sex and other factors. The wording at the time confused voters as its argument fell under “civil rights” yet the law was, according to opponents of I-200, discriminatory.
Known as the Washington State Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Act, I-1000 restores affirmative action into state law without the use of quotas or preferential treatment; defining the meaning of preferential treatment and its exceptions; and establishing a governor’s commission on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Former State Representative Jesse Wineberry, one of the architects of the measure, expressed his jubilation on the passing of the initiative.
“We have become the first state putting Washington at the forefront in repealing and reversing anti-affirmative action policies in the country,” said Wineberry. “States such as California, Arizona and Michigan are looking to Washington as an example in how to battle such discriminatory practices and policies.”
“Eight other states made this mistake starting back in 1998 and haven’t launched measures to change,” continued Wineberry. “We are the first state to do so moving forward rather than backwards and that’s a good feeling.”
According to Nat Jackson, a longtime civil rights activist and the citizen sponsor of I-1000, over the course of twenty years I-200 took an estimated $3.5 billion in potential earnings away from minority and women owned business and the communities that they serve.
“According to the State Office of Minority and Women Business Enterprise the loss to minority and women businesses was $3.5 billion dollars,” says Jackson. “It is phenomenal, it’s shameful to know that people who have an opportunity to go into business lost $3.5 billion dollars, now think about the impact of that.”
In addition to allowing recruitment goals for minority candidates in state jobs, education and contracting, I-1000 would also require an annual report on the progress of state agencies in achieving the measure’s goal of
“guaranteeing every resident of Washington state equal opportunity and access to public education and employment.”
Despite opposition from conservative right-wing groups and an organization called Washington Asians for Equity, the initiative received unprecedented support. The Secretary of State’s office certified a total of 395,938 signatures for I-1000 – the most signatures for an initiative to the legislature in state history. In addition, it received the endorsements of many present and past lawmaker including Gov. Jay Enslee, former Democratic Governors Chris Gregoire and Gary Locke as well as former Republican Gov. Dan Evans.
Wineberry, who was instrumental in lobbying members of the house and senate to support I-1000, was pleased with the response from the community with regards to I-1000.
“We are excited and we felt very optimistic due to the fact that we achieved the most signatures for an initiative in the 130-year history of the State of Washington,” says Wineberry
“We have given a rebirth or an awakening to diversity, equity and inclusion in the state of Washington. It is a wonderful and gratifying feeling to change the world beginning here in Washington,” continues Wineberry.
Because I-1000 was an initiative to the legislature, it does not require the signature of the governor to become law. Under state law, I-1000 will become law 90 days after its passage (on or around July 28, 2019). However, opponents have the same 90-day period to gather 130,000 signatures in order to prevent the initiative from becoming law and having it placed on the November general election ballot statewide.
In an effort to force a public vote and ultimately defeat I-1000, the Asians for Equity are feverishly trying to gather signatures for a referendum that would repeal I-1000 ahead of that 90-day timeline.
Until then Nat Jackson, Jesse Wineberry and the citizens of the State can celebrate a long and hard-fought battle in bringing about the reversal of anti-affirmative action I-200 and restoring equity and fairness through I-1000.
Councilmember Gossett summed it up best on the work and effort put in by a united community.
“The greatest praise goes to the men and women who developed I-1000, who organized signatures drives, who went to the churches and community centers and the streets to gather the names that caused the state to act,” says Gossett. “These people, and their work, embody Dr. King’s statement that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”