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Dec. 6, 2019

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In Our View: End affirmative action ban, vote yes on Ref. 88

The Columbian
Published: October 14, 2019, 6:03am

Referendum 88 on the statewide ballot is a complex issue revolving around affirmative action requirements. The Columbian Editorial Board recommends a “yes” vote.

As always, this is merely a recommendation designed to foster discussion and, hopefully, provide some clarity. The Columbian trusts that voters will examine the issue before casting an informed ballot.

Initiative 1000, which was adopted this year by the Legislature, would allow state and local governments to remedy “documented discrimination” in public education, employment and contracting. It would overturn an initiative approved by voters in 1999 that prohibits governments from using race, color, ethnicity or national origin in making decisions on college admissions, hiring, promotions and contracting.

Referendum 88 landed on the ballot after opponents of the Legislative initiative gathered enough signatures. The referendum asks the question: Should Initiative 1000 be approved or rejected? If it passes, Washington will join 42 states that do not ban affirmative action.

Yes, all of this can be a bit confusing. In an effort to help provide some guidance, we point out that all legislative Democrats from Southwest Washington voted in favor of Initiative 1000, while all Republicans from the area opposed it.

The Columbian believes that voters should approve Referendum 88 — and therefore Initiative 1000. The key to the measure is that it specifically targets “documented” discrimination rather than establishing expressed preferences for one group or another in hiring or college admissions. According to an explanatory statement from the office of the state attorney general, “Affirmative action could not be used to impose quotas.”

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Opponents of the referendum claim the language of the measure would lead to surreptitious quotas, but the statement from the attorney general disputes that. Martha Choe of the Washington Fairness Coalition, which is supporting Referendum 88, told The (Tacoma) News Tribune, “There is absolutely nothing to substantiate these false claims that there are quotas.”

The legislation also would establish a Governor’s Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to oversee each state agency’s compliance with the act. Any proposed bureaucracy calls for scrutiny on the part of citizens, but the proposed commission appears to be a reasonable and minimal step to ensure fairness throughout state government. The commission would “publish an annual report on the progress of all state agencies in achieving diversity, equity and inclusion . . .”

Perhaps those reports will find no discrimination; perhaps they will identify areas in which we can make Washington better for all citizens. Either way, we will never know the answers and never know our state’s shortcomings if we do not ask the right questions. The commission would simply play an advisory role; changes to the law would remain the purview of the Legislature.

Historically, in Washington and elsewhere, it does not take much effort to find examples of exclusion based on race or gender — be it in housing, education, employment or simply the ability to procure a loan. Much progress has been made to abolish such discrimination, but it would be naive to suggest that no more is necessary.

Initiative 1000 would allow Washington to continue its progress toward becoming a more inclusive state that truly provides equal opportunity for all. The Columbian Editorial Board recommends a “yes” vote on Referendum 88.

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