Inslee rescinds directive banning affirmative action in Washington state government

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee announced a new executive order on Friday to strengthen diversity in the Washington government, and said he would overturn a long-standing directive that restricts affirmative action in hiring, contracting and state education.

The announcement, made after Inslee met with black community leaders on Friday, comes as he and state officials attempt to diversify government after voters in 2019 upheld a 20-year ban on positive action.

The move immediately drew applause from organizations who pushed for greater representation and changes to tackle systemic racism.

But the move – which has been criticized by affirmative action opponents who won two statewide votes – could reignite a fierce and loaded debate over the role of government in such matters.

Washington’s struggles over affirmative action have simmered for more than two decades. In 1998, state voters decisively supported a popular effort led by Tim Eyman to end affirmative action based on race or gender with Initiative 200. The results came even though voters backed progressive voting measures that year legalizing medical marijuana and raising the minimum wage.

In light of this vote, so-Gov. Gary Locke issued an executive directive ordering state agencies not to use affirmative action.

But a 2017 opinion from Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the ban “does not prohibit all measures based on race and gender.”

In a statement Friday, the governor’s office said Inslee would cancel Locke’s tenure Directive 98-01, calling it “too restrictive”.

“Within the next 10 days, the governor will issue a replacement executive order that will tell agencies how to move towards fairness while respecting” the ban, the statement said.

In prepared remarks, Inslee called diversity “our greatest strength, and it is only by leveling the playing field that it becomes possible for all Washingtonians to thrive and lead healthy and healthy lives. successful.

“Today’s announcements are systemic changes designed to break down the barriers that have kept too many Washingtonians on the sidelines for too long,” he added.

During this time, the decree signed on Friday aims to increase the number of certified companies owned by women, minorities and veterans in state framework contracts.

As part of this, the State Department of Business Services – which oversees some state contracts – and the Department of Transportation will examine whether current bonding, insurance and experience requirements create unnecessary barriers to efforts. companies to obtain government contracts.

Karen Johnson, director of the State Office of Equity, welcomed the announcement.

“Gov. Inslee has said he believes Washington is an anti-racist state and will take action to compel our state government to honor that pledge, ”Johnson said in prepared remarks. “We are grateful for this bold move and look forward to working in solidarity with others to embed fairness and justice into every state engagement action. “

In 2018, Jesse Wineberry, a former state official, helped launch a new initiative to overturn the ban on affirmative action. This initiative in the Legislature was qualified in 2019, and lawmakers this spring voted to lift the ban.

But opponents – led by a group of Chinese immigrants and backed by conservatives – have gathered signatures to pose the question to voters in a referendum. That fall, voters maintained the ban by a narrow margin.

Opponents of affirmative action that year argued that such measures polarize and ultimately reward people on the basis of their race, ethnicity or gender, rather than merit.

Linda Yang, spokesperson for this anti-Referendum 88 campaign, said on Friday that voters were clear in their rejection of affirmative action policies by passing I-200 and rejecting R-88.

“I think that he [Inslee] must respect the will of the voters. If they want to change the law, maybe take another initiative. I’m pretty sure we could beat them again, ”Yang said.

Inslee’s announcement drew criticism from John Carlson, the conservative radio talk show host who helped run the I-200 campaign in 1998.

“A governor cannot repeal a state law passed by the legislature and promulgated by a previous governor or passed by the people, with an executive order,” Carlson said. “If he’s going to run Initiative 200 and replace equality for color blind people with a different rule system for different races, let’s get him out.”

“I can’t think of a better place to do this than in mid-November,” Carlson said.

Carlson compared Inslee’s actions to those of Locke, who as governor strongly opposed the I-200 but still signed the directive that aligns state policies with measures after its approval by 58% of voters.

While Inslee’s statement said his order for state agencies was aimed at fairness while respecting the ban on affirmative action, Carlson said “no one believes him.”

Locke on Friday welcomed Inslee’s decision to rescind his old executive order, if necessary, given updated guidance from the attorney general’s office, which is different from the more restrictive advice he received in 1998.

“Now that the attorney general’s office has changed its opinion, it is absolutely appropriate and long ago to change or repeal this decree,” Locke said.

Inslee’s discussion with black leaders in King County in June focused on police accountability and criminal justice reform, black-centered patient care and black wealth creation, the door wrote. – Inslee’s words, Tara Lee, in an email.

“During this conversation, there was interest in discussing the issues of procurement disparities and 98-01 in addition to other issues raised,” she wrote.

Lawyers and elected officials had urged Inslee to overturn the directive. the King County Metropolitan Council, Seattle City Council and Association of Washington Cities joined the call last year.

Wineberry said late last month he pushed the governor to reverse the previous directive.

“Why don’t you have your Abraham Lincoln and Communities of Color moment free and everybody… why don’t you free them? Wineberry said in an interview.

It remains to be seen what exactly Inslee’s command will do. But the 2017 opinion from the state AG’s office noted that the ban still leaves the state government some leeway to pursue certain policies aimed at increasing diversity in contracts and employment. .

“The measure allows the use of measures that take into account race or gender in public procurement without raising a less qualified entrepreneur over a more qualified entrepreneur”, according to the opinion. “In limited circumstances, an agency may be permitted to use a narrowly tailored preference based on race or gender when no other means are available to remedy the discrimination demonstrated in state contracts.

“State agencies can also use preferences based on race or gender when necessary in order to avoid losing eligibility for programs providing federal funds,” he continued.

An analysis by the State Business Bureau for Minorities and Women showed that certified small businesses owned by people of color lost ground in procurement after the 1998 affirmative action ban.

Between 1994 and 1998, Washington agencies spent about 10% per year on contracts, services, and qualifying goods with certified small businesses owned by women and minorities.

In contrast, these companies in fiscal 2018 won around 3.6% of government contracts, goods and services.

Opponents of affirmative action rejected this analysis, saying women and people of color had less reason to become certified after the ban and therefore contracts might not be included in these numbers.

Advocates for businesses owned by women and people of color greeted the news on Friday.

“We have been waiting for this to happen for some time and are happy to hear that he is announcing it,” said Vicky Schiantarelli, Washington branch secretary of the National Association of Minority Contractors.

The change will allow state agencies to review entrepreneurs’ ‘inclusion plans’ in which they present plans to hire and support small businesses, including those owned by women and people of color, Schiantarelli said. .

“What this will allow us to do is have the big picture making sure people are inclusive in what they submit,” said Schiantarelli.

The change “will benefit us to now be back in the loop of economic opportunity that we have been deprived of since the governor’s directive,” said Lynn French, a former budget analyst for the State Senate who owns a consultancy firm. and was among those urging Inslee to cancel the order.

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