Voting yes on the statewide Referendum 88 will help level the playing field for people it’s been tilted against. It’s a very limited affirmative action measure targeted on the goal of fairness in K-12 and higher education, government jobs, and government contracts.
Its beneficiaries will be groups who have experienced documented discrimination or underrepresentation on account of race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, age, sensory, mental or physical disability or veteran or military status.
If passed, Referendum 88 will reunite Washington with the 42 states that have similar affirmative action laws, and repudiate Initiative 200, the anti-affirmative action measure backed by the charlatan Tim Eyman that became law in 1998.
State schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal reports that since the passage of I-200, schools have been hampered in their ability to recruit teachers of color, even though there is ample evidence that kids of color do better in school if they have even one teacher who looks like them.
In Washington, nearly half of all public school students are children of color, but just over ten percent of teachers are. Yet many school district lawyers, Reykdal says, often counsel against even doing targeted outreach to prospective teachers of color for fear of violating I-200. The cost of the current law to children is indefensible. And the cost to our communities’ future is immense.
Opponents of Referendum 88 argue that affirmative action is divisive because it takes race into account in hiring and admission policies. But this is an argument that only makes sense if you willfully ignore history. Remediating past discrimination and current disadvantage requires confronting it frankly and fairly.
After 250 years of slavery, a century of Jim Crow, and decades of redlining, job discrimination, and unequal justice, it is small wonder that in Seattle the median white household income is $105,100, and the median black household income is $42,500. And after several millennia of male supremacy, it is no wonder that women only make $.79 for every dollar paid to men.
Referendum 88 does not call for quotas, or for hiring, college admission, or government contracting preferences based on race, sex, or disability alone. And though some opponents say otherwise, most respected legal scholars say it will not affect established veteran preferences.
The new law would require colleges and government agencies to set goals for improving diversity in hiring, admissions and contracting, and timetables to meet those goals. And it would create a one and one-half-person agency and a statewide council to monitor progress. That sets up a reasonable and persistent push towards equality and inclusion for all of us.
If you vote yes for Referendum 88, you will be in good company: Its supporters include former Republican Governor Dan Evans, former Democratic governors Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire, the Washington State Labor Council, the Washington Education Association, and a host of other community leaders, media, and organizations.
911 Communications System
Voters in Thurston County should approve Proposition 1, a sales tax increase of one-cent-per $10 purchase to pay for a major upgrade to our 911 emergency radio communications system. The current communication system dates from 1978, and is so old it is analog rather than digital.
When a train derailed and landed on I-5 in 2017, Thurston County first responders were unable to communicate with JBLM or Pierce County’s digital systems. Our current system also doesn’t work very well in some areas of Thurston County.
Replacing the aging communications system was recommended in 2008, but in the midst of the Great Recession, this expense was understandably deferred. But it should not be deferred any longer. It is truly a life or death matter for firefighters, medics, and law enforcement to be able to communicate with each other, with the State Patrol, their colleagues in neighboring jurisdictions, and with dispatch.
Proposition 1 would allow the system to finance the $30 million expense of replacement, which would be completed in the next three years. That is a very big price tag. But the importance and urgency of this need is so clear that no one could be found to write a voters’ pamphlet statement opposing it.
Many of us may wish for a more progressive tax system that spared low-income people from yet another sales tax increase. But the immediacy of our need to keep our neighbors, ourselves, and our first responders safe far outweighs that concern.