By Aaron Allen
The Seattle Medium
Last week, 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, has had on Washington state as the Secretary of State certified I-1000 – an initiative to the legislature designed to enhance equity, diversity and inclusion in public contracting, hiring and education.
According to Nat Jackson, a longtime civil rights activist and one of the sponsors of the initiative, 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.”
According to Ballotpedia, a non-partisan, non-profit online Encyclopedia of American Politics, I-1000 would allow affirmative action without the use of quotas in the state of Washington. This means that characteristics such as color, race and sexual orientation, disability, or veteran status could be used as factorswhen considering a person for education, employment and government contract opportunities. I-1000 would, however, ban preferential treatment, meaning those characteristics could not be the soleor deciding factor. The measure would also create a Governor’s commission on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and would be required to issue 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.”
Initiatives to the legislature differ from ballot initiatives in that they, if certified by the Secretary of State by having over 295,000 valid signatures, are forwarded to the State Legislature for ratification. If the Legislature does not act on the initiative it then gets placed on the upcoming general election ballot. The Secretary of State certified a total of 395,938 signatures for I-1000 – the most signatures for an initiative to the legislature in state history.
Former State Rep. Jesse Wineberry, who helped to write the initiative, is optimistic about the success of their efforts.
“We are excited and we feel 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.
Twenty years ago, 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.
Jackson states, “in 1-200 it was confusing to the voter if you remember they said it was civil rights and yet it was discriminatory.”
A public hearing on I-1000 is tentatively set for Feb. 22 in Olympia, where sponsors, local leaders and voters will descend on the capital to testify and hear arguments for and against the initiative. According to reports, Ward Connerly, an African American anti-affirmative action advocate who was instrumental in the passage of I-200 and Prop 209 in California, is scheduled to speak against the initiative.
Wineberry says that Connerly is an outsider who should not be invoking his harmful rhetoric in the business of Washington state.
“He (Connerly) is not from this state,” says Wineberry. “He was not from this state in 1998 and I think it is right for us to say we pay taxes, we live in this state, these are our lawmakers and you as an outsider from Idaho really should not be trying to tell us what laws we enact for us.”
In addition to receiving widespread support from the community, I-1000 has been endorsed by Gov. Jay Inslee and former Washington State Governors Dan Evans, Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire.