OLYMPIA – A Senate investigation found no evidence that Democratic members made improper remarks behind closed doors, dismissing the claims of a freshman lawmaker who said she experienced “hate, sexism, racism and misogyny” in her first session.
Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, later tried to say her speech to the Chamber of Commerce was mischaracterized in the local newspaper. A video released by the Kent Reporter, however, showed the newspaper did not misquote or mischaracterize her, and she later apologized.
Das later said none of the other Democrats said anything “overtly racist or sexist, but it’s what I heard underneath it all, the coded language.”
But by then the Secretary of the Senate had started an investigation of her allegations which, if true, would violate the the chamber’s policy on appropriate workplace conduct.
Tara Parker, the chamber’s human resources officer, talked to members of the Democratic Caucus, because Das had claimed the comments took place behind closed doors in caucus meetings. The investigation tried to determine if any Democrats had heard racist or sexist language in those meetings or knew of any conduct that showed “unconscious bias against historically marginalized individuals or communities.”
After some 30 hours of interviews, Parker said all the Democrats who talked with her denied hearing sexist or racist comments in caucus and she found no evidence any had been made. Das, instead, shifted her concerns to more subtle biases.
Das said “a few” colleagues were dismissive and disrespectful when minority members raised concerns about the impact bills could have on communities of color, but declined to name them.
“Sen. Das stated that longstanding traditions in the Senate reflect an inherent bias toward seniority, and therefore perpetuate biases,” Parker wrote in the report. New members were told to refrain from speaking in caucus, as a way to help them “listen and learn,” Das said, which would silence her voice and the perspective of people who had not previously had representation.
Some senators, including those who are members of racial or ethnic minorities, said they were “very dismayed” that Das’ claim of sexist and racist comments in the caucus room were untrue, and that her discussing those closed-door debates was “a breach of professional trust that may inhibit open and candid exchanges.”
They also pointed out the Democratic Caucus has the most diverse leadership in the state’s legislative history.
In a statement after the release of the report, Das continued to assert that institutional racism, which is often unconscious and unintentional, affects state policies and laws.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues to address institutional racism in our government and throughout Washington,” she said in the statement.
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