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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Statewide report grades lawmakers on racial equity

Group gives Spokane-area GOP an ‘F’

Republican lawmakers from Spokane and Eastern Washington received failing grades in a new statewide report on racial equity issued by a liberal-leaning organization.

Only Democratic state Rep. Andy Billig from Spokane’s 3rd District received an “A” based on votes on 25 pieces of legislation over the past two years. Billig will move to the Senate in January.

Two other Democrats from the 3rd District got “B” grades: outgoing state Sen. Lisa Brown and Rep. Timm Ormsby. They represent a district that is 18 percent minority.

Members of the Washington Community Action Network unveiled the report cards Monday and called for more action on issues of race, equity and opportunity. The report is called Facing Race.

The Legislature earned a “D” grade, or 63 percent, based on the 25 pieces of legislation included in the report.

“Many lawmakers are not making the grade,” said Tia Griffin, of the action network.

Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, said Republican grades were affected by their opposition to taxes. He said that keeping taxes down will allow for more business and job growth, which in turn will help minority families. Parker’s votes gave him a 57 percent rating for an “F” grade, but it was among the group’s highest ratings for GOP lawmakers.

Parker said he has supported legislation sought by minority advocates, including a 2011 law allowing students enrolled in postsecondary education to remain in foster care until age 21.

Cuts in funding for education and basic health coverage, equal employment, worker protections, immigrant rights, housing equity and criminal justice fairness were identified by the advocacy group as significant issues for minorities.

Low-income workers pay 17 percent of their wages in state taxes compared with just 3 percent for the richest taxpayers, the center said. Unemployment is 19 percent among blacks and 14.8 percent among Latinos, but 9.1 percent among whites in Washington based on 2011 figures, the report said.

Assistant professor Martin Meraz Garcia, of the Chicano studies department at Eastern Washington University, said public schools in Washington are failing to give minority children the basic skills that will propel them through college and into successful careers.

He said he knows from personal experience. He graduated from Pasco High School and entered college without strong writing ability.

Now he teaches students suffering from what he called “an achievement gap.”

Latinos make up 12 percent of the state’s population, he said, but earn only 5 to 6 percent of college degrees.

Educational grants and funding should do more to target minority achievement, he said.

“This is about funding. This is about resources,” he said.

Marley Hochendoner, of the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance, said that minorities are more likely to face foreclosure and more likely to be homeless. The result is a vast loss of property values in minority neighborhoods, even in values of homes that are not emptied through foreclosure.

Francisco Navarro said he grew up as the son of an undocumented worker in Washington, adding that 65 to 75 percent of migrant workers are undocumented.

He called on Washington lawmakers to prohibit use of the federal “e-verify” program because of faulty information in the system that could result in legal residents being denied jobs.

Minority youth make up 45 percent of juvenile detention populations in Washington, despite making up 27 percent of the state’s youth population. Blacks and Latinos of all ages are more likely to receive longer sentences for less serious crimes, the center said.

“Black people, people of color have lost faith in the judicial system,” said the Rev. Percy Watkins, of Spokane.

Watkins said that when Fred Meyer built its east Spokane store, the management promised to hire workers from the neighborhood. Yet a shopping trip reveals very few minority workers employed there, he said.

Because of hiring practices locally, minority youth are forced to leave Spokane in order to get jobs, he said.

“We want to help in this economy,” Watkins said.