By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee recently announced that he intends to sign an executive order that will help to alleviate the systemic barriers that have plagued minority, women and veteran owned businesses in bidding and securing contracts since voters in Washington State approved I-200 in 1998. I-200 prohibits public institutions from discriminating or granting preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the areas of public education, public employment, and public contracting.
In a press release sent out last Friday, Inslee says that he plans to rescind Directive 98-01, a 23-year-old document, issued by then Gov. Gary Locke, that was intended to provide agencies with instructions on how to apply Initiative 200 (I-200) on affirmative action.
According to the release, Directive 98-01 “was overly restrictive,” and the governor will issue a replacement executive order that will instruct agencies on how to move forward with achieving equity while still complying with I-200 in the next 10 days.
“Washington’s diversity is our greatest strength, and it is only by leveling the playing field that it becomes possible for all Washingtonians to thrive and live healthy and successful lives,” Inslee said. “Today’s announcements are systemic changes that are designed to break down barriers that have kept too many Washingtonians on the sidelines for too long.”
Proponents of this policy change say that federal monies, with a combined value of about $20 billion, coming into the state from the American Rescue Act, the Infrastructure Act and the Build Back Better bill, if passed, could lift a significant number of minorities in the state out of poverty.
According to former State Rep. Jesse Winberry, “the impact will be immense.”
“Statistics show nearly 300,000 jobs will become available, contractors can begin to become certified again solidifying their bidding positions and students can rest assure that not because of their race or gender the application process will once again be a fair process,” says Wineberry.
Karen Johnson, director of the state Office of Equity, praised the announcement to rescind the directive.
“Gov. Inslee said that he believes that Washington is an anti-racist state and will take action to hold our state government to that commitment,” said Johnson. “We are grateful for this bold action and look forward to working in solidarity with others to embed equity and justice into every state contacting action.”
After years of analysis of I-200, community leaders like Wineberry and a host of others have led the push for a new initiative to roll back the ban on affirmative action.
According to Wineberry, under Gov. Gary Locke’s leadership Directive 98-01 banned the use of affirmative action, in hiring and contracting practices and policies, except when it is applied to the disabled and veterans, although I-200 in its language did not do so. Although, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld I-200’s intent and the Attorney General’s Office double down on the Supreme Court decision, Inslee’s decision to rescind the directive opens the gates of opportunity to for minority and women owned businesses.
“Governor Gary Locke sent out a directive in 98-01 saying the exact opposite of I-200,” says Winberry. “This is the most fascinating story I have ever been a part of. A governor went against the will of the people. Locke has since agreed that in that time the courts have corrected the interpretation and he recommended that Gov. Inslee rescind his own directive.”
Locke praised Inslee’s decision to rescind his old executive order as fitting, given the updated guidance from the Attorney General’s office, which is different than the restrictive guidance he received in 1998.
“Now that the Attorney General’s office has modified its opinion, it is absolutely appropriate and long overdue to modify or repeal that executive order,” Locke said.
Equity and economic opportunities are the cornerstones behind the rescinding of the directive and advocates believe that it will help to bring about the change that is needed to ensure equity in the state.
“This executive order is one of many important steps towards equity that will be instrumental in facilitating the cultural changes statewide necessary to address the lack of opportunities for these businesses identified in the 2019 Disparity Study,” Inslee said. “This leads to a more resilient economy, more opportunities, innovation and more money going back into our communities.”