Sen. Ann Rivers: I-1000 will start a ‘race war’ in Washington

Oct 24, 2019, 4:59 PM | Updated: 5:32 pm
Ann Rivers...
(Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)
(Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)

For Washington State Senator Ann Rivers, the controversial debates around Referendum 88 and Initiative 1-000 — which pertain to affirmative action — are a sign of things to come.

“I believe that this referendum is going to create a race war,” Rivers told KIRO Radio’s Candy, Mike, and Todd Show. “So we have minorities pitted against minorities in an effort to be the most favored minority or a favored minority.”

Rivers says that I-1000 will create an “open and gaping wound.” The initiative was passed by the Washington State Legislature last session. It ends the state’s ban on affirmative action (a ban that was put in place when voters approved I-200 in 1998).

I-1000 doesn’t completely establish affirmative action in the state. It would allow public employers and schools to use recruitment goals, such as race, gender, disability, age, veteran status, and other attributes. It does not implement quotas for hiring. No single attribute would be a sole factor for hiring.

The man behind Referendum 88

The initiative received well over the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot — 395,000. But the Legislature had the option of weighing in first and passed it, preventing it from going further to the ballot. In response, organizations have moved to counter I-1000 with Referendum 88. The referendum put the initiative on the November 2019 ballot, allowing the voting public to have the final say. If I-1000 is voted down, it would reverse the Legislature’s action, and things would go back to the way they were (since 1998).

Rivers told Candy, Mike, and Todd that when the lawmakers addressed I-1000 last session, it was the lowest point of her political career. She said that after lawmakers approved I-1000, different groups erupted in shouting matches across the Senate gallery.

“Where you have people of one race who feel bitterly, angry shouting epithets toward people of another race, both minorities, but fighting against one another,” she said. “That’s what happened on the floor of the Senate. And we were shuffled off, out of the Senate floor and the sergeant at arms had a difficult time removing all of the people. And it was equal — the shouting back and forth at one another, the hate speak. I just think we should tread very lightly here.”

She said lawmakers could hear the shouting continuing for an hour after people were removed from the gallery.

“Really, I think it represents the shape of things to come (if people approve I-1000),” she said.

I-1000 has received considerable support in Washington from various corners. Government officials such as Gov. Jay Inslee, former Governors Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke support I-1000. Organizations such as the ACLU, NAACP, Microsoft, Vulcan, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Seattle Business Association also support the initiative.

Sen. Rivers maintains, however, that I-1000 “moves the ball backwards” by creating “different rules for different races.” She objects to the formation of an unelected body that would establish hiring preferences.

“It’s just absolutely unfair and contrary to the principles of equality for all,” Rivers said. “It takes away the … 100-year hiring preference in Washington that our veterans have earned for their service to our country. This looks to me like ‘let’s pick winners and losers.'”

This echoes the arguments made by the man behind R-88, Kan Qui. He previously told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross that I-1000 is “divisive,” but further said that “it is actually targeted as Asian Americans.”

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.”

“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.”

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Sen. Ann Rivers: I-1000 will start a ‘race war’ in Washington