Referendum 88: Letting Washington voters decide on affirmative action

May 3, 2019, 7:04 AM | Updated: May 6, 2019, 5:44 am
affirmative action, referendum 88...
Protesters opposed to Initiative 1000 chant and march following a joint Washington state House and Senate committee, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Kan Qiu knows racism exists in American society. He, and his family, experience it often. Still, he is spearheading the effort to defeat the recently-passed I-1000 — an initiative to lift Washington’s ban on affirmative action.

“We view this Initiative 1000 as divisive,” Qiu told Seattle’s Morning News on KIRO Radio. “It is actually targeted at Asian Americans.”

Based in Bellevue, Qiu is the man behind Referendum 88 which would send I-1000 to Washington voters for the final say. He argues — beyond his opposition to basing regulation on race — that affirmative action regulations will harm the Asian American community.

RELATED: What is in I-1000’s affirmative action plan
RELATED: Could affirmative action head to the ballot?

“I don’t believe in identity politics,” he said. “I believe in working hard and achieving merit. It shouldn’t be based on your race or identity. That does not make sense.”

Racism and discrimination in Washington

Qiu is with the American Coalition for Equality and is also a member of Washington Asians for Equality.

“In this state, there is a dark history with Chinese Americans,” he said. “Back in the 1880s, right after Chinese labor was used to finish the transcontinental railroad, back then, Chinese immigrants were the second largest ethnic group, behind white, in the State of Washington.”

He explains that discrimination was common during those times, with spreading fears of Chinese immigrants stealing jobs. Eventual exclusionary laws were passed, many of which did not allow land ownership for Asian immigrants.

“Because of that government-sanctioned bigotry, the public was more emboldened,” Qiu said. “There were a lot of lynchings and public atrocities committed against Chinese immigrants, right here in Tacoma and Issaquah. There are a lot of incidents like that.”

It’s sensitivity to the region’s racist past, Qiu says, that informs his opposition to affirmative action. That is why he is leading the effort to scale back what the Legislature did last session — pass I-1000. And he aware that his position, as an Asian American, may not align with others from different minorities. He has spoken with others about their support for affirmative action and I-1000.

“They say the whole systematic racism is towards them,” he said. “Nobody is perfect. There are individual people, they have prejudice. But at least at the law level, at the policy level, I cannot find any discrimination … To me, it’s not a problem with the law, it’s a problem with the execution of the law … You are telling people that certain class of people need to be treated different. That’s a very dangerous path.”

Referendum 88

Referendum 88 does not undo I-1000 entirely. Instead, it would send the affirmative action issue to Washington state voters for the final decision. Currently, the initiative was passed by the Legislature on April 28. Referendum 88 was filed with the state on April 29. You can read its text here.

Volunteers are collecting signatures for the referendum. They need about 129,000 signatures to move the referendum forward.

I-1000 overturned 1998’s Initiative 200, which banned affirmative action in Washington. Unlike similar regulations, I-1000 does not require the use of quotas. It states that race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sexual orientation, disability, or veteran status can be used as factors when schools and employers are considering applicants. But it bans preferential treatment, so any such characteristics cannot be the sole factor in a hiring decision.

The initiative was supported by One WA Equality Campaign. But Qiu’s organization also hypes equality — Washington Asians for Equality.

Qiu says that I-1000 and its affirmative action regulations would harm the Asian American community.

“This would hurt me and other Asian Americans in the educational (system), maybe for a future in public employment,” he said. “… at UW for example, there is a 25 percent Asian American student body. There are politicians; even a Seattle Times editorial mentioned that they feel like there are too many. We’re over-represented. That’s a scary word to us. Whenever people talk about ‘you are over-represented,’ that means you need to be reduced. That’s kind of scary. It is targeted at Asian Americans.”

Qiu’s relationship with racism may not be that of other minorities. When pressed on how he encounters the issue, he does not speak about the justice system or a history of redlining. He discusses everyday encounters that minorities deal with.

RELATED: How segregation was planned and continues in Seattle
RELATED: Seattle schools more segregated today than decades ago

He argues that systems from the government to the schools are already set up to deal with discrimination. He says he will simply report someone if they are discriminating and in a position of power. If he encounters someone powerless, like a neighbor, he will “just walk away. I’ll never talk to him. I’ll never have any interaction with him. It’s easy.”

“At the individual level, there are incidents of discrimination,” he said. “That is the truth. Even myself … my kid … he was discriminated against when he was in first grade. The other white kids were calling him racist names. Guess what? We reported it to the school, to the principal. Then there were consequences. The parents were called into the office.”

“However, if the government has on the books, discrimination against you, that is harder for any of us to overcome,” he said. “Because the government has immense power over you.”

Dave Ross on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

Dave's Commentary

Dave Ross

MyNorthwest Staff

Mudhoney bassist and nurse: ‘COVID has touched everything,’ even music

Guy Maddison, the bassist for Mudhoney, is also a supervising nurse at Harborview. He shares the impact COVID has had on his life.
2 days ago
Steve Bannon...
Dave Ross

Ross: The person who really needs to testify about Jan. 6 riot isn’t Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon may be the one summoned to testify in Congress about Jan. 6, but there's someone else who has more to answer for.
3 days ago
Freedom, vaccine mandate...
Dave Ross

Ross: Freedom requires level of unselfishness many in our country don’t have

Total freedom requires a level of unselfishness that doesn't come naturally for a lot of people, as we've seen firsthand with the state vaccine mandate.
4 days ago
car tabs, Orting...
Dave Ross

Ross: Did you vote for I-976 car tab cuts in 2019? Wish granted

While a vaccine mandate cost the ferry system 7% of its staff, let’s remember this is happening in a state that was ready to impose bigger cuts two years ago.
5 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: May we live long and prosper with our vaccine choices

Talk show host Dennis Praeger decided to put it all on the line to prove he’s right about vaccines.
6 days ago
Flu vaccine...
MyNorthwest Staff

A new ‘universal’ flu-COVID shot on the horizon, says local MD

Mercer Island’s Dr. Gordon Cohen discusses how future iterations of the COVID mRNA vaccine could also treat seasonal flu.
7 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Referendum 88: Letting Washington voters decide on affirmative action