Affirmative action, under attack in California and among some congressional Republicans, would be banned in Washington state under an initiative filed this week.
Initiative 172 would bar state and local governments from hiring people based on their race, sex, ethnicity or national origin. It also would bar hiring based on sexual preference.
The campaign was formed by Ron Taber, a conservative Republican activist and millionaire.
Affirmative action backers said they were dismayed at the development.
Taber said Wednesday the signaturegathering campaign to get the initiative to the 1996 Legislature could cost up to $200,000, and he was prepared to pay out of his own pocket, if necessary. “I’m a self-made millionaire and I’m prepared to pay what it takes,” he said.
The initiative follows an attempt this year by members of the Republican House to win passage of a law banning affirmative action hiring programs. The measure died in the House Law and Justice Committee after a stormy hearing that drew an overflow crowd, a majority of them opposed.
“I’m pleased to see somebody doing this initiative,” said the bill’s sponsor, Scott Smith, R-Graham. “I’ll do everything I can to help,” he said, adding that Taber did not consult him prior to filing the initiative.
If backers gathered the required 181,667 signatures of registered voters by Dec. 22, the initiative would go to the 1996 Legislature. If the Legislature failed to pass the measure, it would go to voters on the November 1996 statewide ballot. Gov. Mike Lowry, who strongly opposes repeal of affirmative action, has no power to veto initiatives.
“I think there is an excellent chance we can get this passed by the people” if not the Legislature, said Taber, a semi-retired real estate developer and builder.
“Thirty years of affirmative action is enough. The policy is discriminatory against all those classes not protected by it, and therefore inherently wrong and immoral, and the overwhelming majority of Americans know it,” he said.
Champions of affirmative action policies disagreed.
“I feel really angered by it,” Rep. Velma Veloria, D-Seattle, said. “I feel I have to put my confidence in the people to see through this and to realize we still need affirmative action. Look around you. Can you honestly say in your conscience that women and people of color don’t still need affirmative action?” she said.
Taber noted that Californians are certain to vote on a similar initiative in 1996 and some polls give the measure a solid chance of passage.
“Washington is not California,” retorted Veloria.
“I know we will be out there fighting this thing and we will win.”
President Clinton earlier this year said the Democratic Party must be sensitive to grievances of “so-called angry white males” and be prepared to abandon minority preference programs that don’t work.