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Prepare for debate over diversity, inclusion, privilege after Referendum 88 makes ballot

Washington state voters will head to the polls Nov. 5 to decide a referendum on a state law that allows the use of affirmative action policies in public education, government employment and contracting.

The Legislature in April approved Initiative 1000 on the final day of the session, but a group called Let People Vote launched a petition drive to overturn it. On Wednesday, the Secretary of State’s office announced that the group had collected enough signatures of registered voters to place Referendum 88 on the general election ballot.

That sets the table for a three-month debate over I-1000, which would replace I-200, the voter-approved ban on affirmative action passed in 1998.

It’s a debate expected to feature discussions of racial diversity and inclusion, white privilege and historic discrimination against people of color.

The primary sponsor of the R-88 petition is Kan Qiu, a Bellevue resident. The News Tribune was unable to reach Qiu for comment. Qiu’s contact information on the Secretary of State’s website links to a nonprofit group, the American Coalition for Equality.

The group that ran the petition drive, Let People Vote, has raised $973,047 so far to overturn I-1000, according to state disclosure records.

Members of Let People Vote have alleged that I-1000 would legalize racial discrimination, penalize hard-working Asian-Americans and allow people who are less qualified to benefit from public higher education admissions, government employment and contracting.

Gov. Jay Inslee and three former governors — Republican Don Evans and Democrats Gary Locke and Chris Gregoire — have supported I-1000.

At a hearing in April, Evans told lawmakers: “I believe that Initiative 1000 is a responsible measure that will help us throw the doors of opportunity wide open.”

An analysis by nonpartisan legislative staff said I-1000 amends a provision of I-200 that prohibits the state from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment in public education, employment and contracting on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.

The prohibition on preferential treatment would be expanded to cover discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, disability or military service, whether as an honorably-discharged veteran or active-duty service member.

The state would not be prohibited from implementing affirmative action laws, regulations, policies or procedures as long as they do not use quotas and do not constitute preferential treatment. Governments could remedy discrimination against — or under-representation of — disadvantaged groups if it can be documented in a study or proven in court.

“Preferential treatment” is defined as using factors such as race or gender as the sole qualifying factor to select a lesser-qualified candidate over a more-qualified one for public employment, public contracting or admission to public colleges, universities and community colleges.

In addition to state government, I-1000 would apply to cities, counties, school districts and special districts.

A yes vote on R-88 would cause the new law, I-1000, to take effect. A no vote would overturn it.

Last month, supporters of I-1000 announced the formation of a coalition called Approve 88.

Andrew Villeneuve, a coalition member who is executive director of the nonprofit group, the Northwest Progressive Institute, said opponents of I-1000 have made several false statements about it.

“Initiative 1000 is a measure that expands inclusion, opportunity and fairness, and these people are saying that it doesn’t, but that’s not true. Initiative 1000 is about helping to reverse decades and centuries of discrimination. For some reason, there are people out there who fervently believe it will hurt them, and they’re wrong about this. It will open more doors of opportunity for them,” he said.

James Drew covers the state Legislature and state government for McClatchy’s Washington papers: The News Tribune, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald and The Tri-City Herald.
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