Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 25° Cloudy
News >  WA Government

Weighing fate of anti-affirmative action initiative, Legislature debates equal vs. equitable

John Carlson, a political activist and radio host, is pictured here in August 2000. Carlson led a campaign to establish Initiative 200, which prohibits racial and gender preferences by state and local government. The Washington Legislature is considering 
ADVANCE FOR AUG. 26-27 - John Carlson, a republican candidate running for governor of Washington state, campaigns at a republican picnic in Bellevue, Wash., Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2000. The Washignton state primary is Sept. 19. Carlson, a conservative radio and newspaper commentator, is competing with state Sen. Harold Hochstatter for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. The winner expects to take on Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, who faces nominal opposition. (AP Photo/Lauren McFalls) (LAUREN MCFALLS / Associated Press)
John Carlson, a political activist and radio host, is pictured here in August 2000. Carlson led a campaign to establish Initiative 200, which prohibits racial and gender preferences by state and local government. The Washington Legislature is considering ADVANCE FOR AUG. 26-27 - John Carlson, a republican candidate running for governor of Washington state, campaigns at a republican picnic in Bellevue, Wash., Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2000. The Washignton state primary is Sept. 19. Carlson, a conservative radio and newspaper commentator, is competing with state Sen. Harold Hochstatter for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. The winner expects to take on Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, who faces nominal opposition. (AP Photo/Lauren McFalls) (LAUREN MCFALLS / Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – In an attempt to get more equitable treatment for everyone, the Legislature is considering wiping out a 1998 initiative that prohibits affirmative action.

Initiative 200, which was supported by 58 percent of voters two decades ago, bans all discrimination or preferential treatment based on race, sex, national origin or ethnicity.

How can prohibiting discrimination be bad? Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, asked during a State Government, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee hearing.

When it holds minorities back by ignoring a history of racial discrimination, supporters of the change said.

Prior to the initiative, Washington law already banned discrimination based on race, sex, age or disability. Initiative 200 was drafted as a response to affirmative action policies created in the wake of the civil rights movement, and extended the state’s anti-discrimination prohibition to include preferential treatment by state or local governments.

“It’s time for us to reconsider this social experiment,” said Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle.

Racial injustice can’t be fixed if efforts for equal treatment ignore years of discrimination that’s a result of a power imbalance that predates anti-discrimination laws, Hasegawa said.

Political activist and talk radio host John Carlson, who led the 1998 initiative campaign, urged lawmakers to keep it. The current law treats everyone the same, and changing it would create inequities, he said.

“It’s wrong when government uses different rules for different races,” Carlson said.

John Yasutake, with the Washington Civil Rights Coalition, disagreed.

“You can’t have effective civil rights unless you have the tools, and affirmative action is one of those tools,” he said.

Seattle Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman said the port has seen racial disparity worsened by the initiative, because it creates a roadblock for hiring the most qualified contractors.

“For the last 20 years, our hands at the Port of Seattle have been tied,” she said. “We have empirical evidence that disparity has grown.”

Kaaren Heikes, with the Washington State Board of Education, said removing the initiative would more fairly serve students, who have consistently shown achievement disparities based on race.

“The educational system must be equitable, not equal, if we want to address our achievement gaps,” she said.

Kevin Allen, with the Washington Federation of State Employees, agreed, and said minorities cannot achieve equality without help to counteract historic racial disparities.

“Affirmative action was put together to get that leg up,” he said. “It’s not a quota, it’s a goal.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.