Spokane’s minority-business community was on edge a day after the Supreme Court ruled that most federal affirmative action programs are unconstitutional.
Many minority-business owners blasted the decision, fearing Monday’s verdict might have a “ripple effect” in the private sector.
“My fear is that this may be turned into a very negative kind of ground swell as an anti-minority movement,” said Jose Pena, president of United Way of Spokane County.
“This decision does nothing to level out the playing field. On the contrary, it may encourage those on the anti-minority fringes to say, ‘You see, we were right all along,”’ said Pena, a Mexican-American.
State officials said Tuesday that Washington will retain set-aside contracts with racial and ethnic minorities. Spokane business owners themselves say the decision is unlikely to directly affect them.
But the decision could leave future generations of minorities without opportunity, minorities say.
Nathaniel Greene, president of Empire Ford, said the ruling to abolish preferential treatment for federal contracts won’t affect his dealership. But it outrages him “The real picture hasn’t been looked at. Supposedly, they say we’ve got an equal playing field, but there’s still a lot of discrimination,” said Carter, an African-American.
State officials, however, say local minorities have nothing to fear from the court ruling. Jim Medina, director of the Washington Office of Minority and Women Business Enterprises, emphasized that the ruling does not ban affirmative action.
Monday’s ruling said nothing about employment matters in private business. And some federal affirmative action programs can be upheld, the court said.
About 4,000 state firms qualify as minority-owned businesses, one of the nation’s largest registered minority pools. In 1993, about 9 percent of $1.8 billion in state expenditures went to minority firms, Medina said.
Michele Maher, owner of J. White and Associates Freight Management Services, applauded the verdict as a means of acknowledging successful businesses regardless of ethnicity. But the Supreme Court may have gone too far to accommodate conservatives, she said.
“I don’t feel threatened by the decision, because we’ve seen the pendulum swing to one side and the other. The only problem is that we don’t seem to have a happy middle of the road,” said Maher, a Mexican-American.
While minority reaction ranged from outrage to uncertainty, some white contractors backed the move.
Tom Link, owner of Link Contracting, said the theory of affirmative action programs has always bothered him.
“To me it was always kind of a discrimination against anyone who wasn’t a minority,” he said.