Last November, the voters of Washington State shocked their betters in board rooms, editorial offices, university administrations, and the leadership of both parties by rejecting Referendum 88, an attempt by state Democrats to bring back affirmative action, which had been prohibited in a 1998 referendum. This new, revived affirmative action, they claimed, would not permit quotas or preferential treatment.

Referendum 88 disingenuously defined preferential treatment as using race, sex, or ethnicity “as the sole qualifying factor to select a less qualified applicant over a more qualified applicant” in public education, employment, or contracting. This would have offered an open door to any and all preferential programs, since no such policies exist that rely solely on race to select less qualified candidates over more qualified ones. That was not the only duplicity. Referendum 88’s version of affirmative action also claimed to forbid quotas, but it left quotas conveniently undefined.

The referendum called for the establishment of a Governor’s Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that would be “responsible for planning, directing, monitoring, and enforcing each state agency’s compliance with this act” and publishing an annual report on each agency’s progress. The commission was necessary, Washington governor Jay Inslee said, because “we know that systemic inequities remain that cause communities of color, veterans, people with disabilities and women to face persistent barriers to work and education opportunities.” Not fooled, Washington voters rejected Referendum 88, recognizing that a government agency whose mission was to promote “inclusion” and stamp out “underrepresentation” and “systemic inequities” would inevitably resort to quotas, though the term might never be uttered.

Washington Democrats have responded to this defeat by ignoring it. The state house has just passed House Bill 1783, which would create what’s being described as the first statewide Office of Equity. Such an office is needed, the bill states, because “historically and currently marginalized communities still do not have the same opportunities to meet parity as their nonmarginalized counterparts,” and as a result, “inequities based on race, ethnicity, gender, and other characteristics continue to be deep, pervasive, and persistent.” A new, “more inclusive Washington is possible if agencies identify and implement effective strategies to eliminate systemic inequities,” the bill declares, and it calls for the Office of Equity to do just that.

Perhaps differences exist between the purpose and powers of this new Office of Equity under the governor and the purpose and powers of the Governor’s Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that the voters vetoed by rejecting Referendum 88. If so, they are not readily apparent.

Of one thing, we can be sure: whenever government agencies or commissions set out to eliminate “systemic inequities,” quotas are sure to follow.

Photo by Rex Wholster / iStock


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