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I-1000: Does affirmative action have a place in Washington state?

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Supporters of an initiative to lift Washington’s ban on affirmative action will take to the streets Friday for a march from Seattle to Olympia.

RELATED: Lawmakers consider repealing state ban on affirmative action

Yesterday, people on both sides of the issue packed a committee hearing in Olympia.

Washington is one of only eight states with a ban on affirmative action. It came in 1998, when voters passed I-200. I-1000 is a current initiative to the state Legislature that aims to repeal the ban. It got well over the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot, a record 395,000.

The initiative would allow the state to use hiring and recruitment goals — but not quotas — to bring minority candidates into state jobs, education, and contracting, loosening restrictions from the 1998 ban.

Race, gender, sex, disability, ethnicity, national origin, age, and honorably discharged veteran status could all be considered. But no single attribute could be the sole factor for a less qualified candidate. That would be considered preferential treatment, which would still be banned.

Affirmative action hearing in Olympia

It was an overflow crowd in Olympia Thursday, for a joint legislative hearing on the initiative. All three living former governors kicked off the hearing with strong support, and urged lawmakers to pass the measure.

Former governor Dan Evans told the committee that the state has made progress since he created a commission on civil rights, six months after taking office in 1965.

“It was apparent that discrimination was pervasive and deep, even in this relatively enlightened state,” Evans said. “We began the task of opening opportunity to all citizens of Washington state. We’ve made significant progress in the years since, but the door of opportunity is still just ajar.”

Governor Christine Gregoire added, “I-1000 opens the door. That’s all it does. It opens the door to qualified candidates who want to go to college, who want public employment, and want public contracting.”

And former governor Gary Locke made it clear that this was not about restoring the old version of affirmative action.

“There’s no preferential treatment allowed under Initiative 1000,” he said. “Quotas are not allowed under Initiative 1000. The hiring and the admission of unqualified or lesser-qualified individuals is not allowed under Initiative 1000. But recruitment and outreach is expressly permitted.”

Dozens of supporters said this was about fairness, arguing that as along as society discriminates based on race, then race must be used to counter that discrimination. They also said that I-1000 is nothing radical.

But a string of opponents argued the change to the law is a bad move, saying that it has no place in American life or law.

“I-1000 would abolish the standard of equality for all, regardless of race, as required by I-200, and replace it with a system that uses different rules for people of different races,” one man said.

“This racist bill of Initiative 1000 will bring back discrimination to one group of people, by giving preference to the other group of people based upon their gender, skin colors, and races,” a little girl testified.

Listen to Dave Ross’ interview with former state legislator Jessie Wineberry about affirmative action and I-1000 below.

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