By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee recently announced that he intends to sign an executive order that will help break down the systemic barriers that have plagued minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned companies in bidding and securing contracts since Washington state voters approved I-200 in 1998. I-200 prohibits public entities from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public education, public employment, and government procurement.
In a press release sent out last Friday, Inslee says he plans to repeal Rule 98-01, a 23-year-old document issued by then-Governor Gary Locke that was meant to direct authorities on how to apply the initiative 200 (I-200) on affirmative action.
According to the press release, Rule 98-01 was “too restrictive,” and the governor will issue a replacement executive order directing agencies on how to move forward in achieving justice over the next 10 days while complying with I-200.
“Washington’s diversity is our greatest strength, and only a level playing field will allow all Washingtonians to thrive and live healthy and prosperous lives,” said Inslee. “Today’s announcements are systemic changes aimed at breaking down barriers that have kept too many Washingtonians on the sidelines for too long.”
Proponents of this policy change say that about $20 billion worth of federal money flowing into the state from the American Rescue Act, the Infrastructure Act and the Build Back Better Act, if passed, will have a sizeable minority in the state could bring the state out of poverty.
According to former state congressman Jesse Winberry, “the impact will be immense.”
“Statistics show nearly 300,000 positions are becoming available, contractors can begin to recertify and solidify their job positions, and students can rest assured that the application process will again be a fair process, not based on race or gender says Wineberry.
Karen Johnson, director of the state’s Office of Equity, hailed the announcement of repealing the policy.
“Reg. Inslee said he believes Washington is an anti-racist state and will take action to bind our state government to that commitment,” Johnson said. “We are grateful for this bold action and look forward to working in solidarity with others to embed equity and justice in every action of the state.”
After years of analyzing I-200, community leaders like Wineberry and many others have led the push for a new initiative to reverse the positive action ban.
According to Wineberry, Directive 98-01, led by Gov. Gary Locke, prohibited the use of affirmative action in hiring and contracting practices and policies except when applied to the disabled and veterans, although I-200 in its language did not do so. Although the Washington State Supreme Court upheld I-200’s intent and the Attorney General’s office double-denied the Supreme Court’s decision, Inslee’s decision to overturn the policy opens up opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses.
“Governor Gary Locke issued a directive in 98-01 that was the exact opposite of I-200,” says Winberry. “This is the most fascinating story I’ve ever been a part of. A governor acted against the will of the people. Locke has since agreed that the courts corrected the interpretation during this time, and he has recommended that Governor Inslee reverse his own policy.”
Locke hailed Inslee’s decision to repeal his old executive order as reasonable given the attorney general’s office’s updated guidance, which differs from the restrictive guidance he received in 1998.
“Now that the Attorney General’s office has changed its mind, it is entirely appropriate and long overdue to amend or repeal this executive order,” Locke said.
Justice and economic opportunity are the cornerstones behind repealing the directive, and proponents believe it will help bring about the changes needed to ensure justice in the state.
“This executive order is one of many important steps toward justice that will help facilitate the statewide cultural shifts needed to address the lack of opportunity for these businesses identified in the 2019 Disparity Study.” said Inslee. “This will result in a more resilient economy, more opportunity, innovation and more money flowing back into our communities.”