In 1998, voters approved Initiative 200, a measure that effectively banned affirmative action on Washington’s college campuses and in state contracting.  The aim of the initiative was to level the playing field in college admissions and public employment. But it was based on a flawed premise that we all start from the same point. We don’t. And nearly 20 years later, the evidence overwhelmingly shows I-200 has had the effect of increasing, not decreasing, discrimination.

For example, during the five years before the passage of I-200, state agencies and higher education institutions spent 10% of their contracting and procurement dollars with certified minority and woman-owned businesses. In the years since, that rate has declined by an average of 3% every year.

If that rate had stayed the same, it would have meant $3.5 billion more dollars for small businesses owned by women and people of color. If it had grown, as we had hoped under I-200, it would have meant even more dollars for those communities.

Minority enrollment at the University of Washington also fell after the passage of I-200, and, despite the college stepping up efforts to recruit more students of color, minorities continue to be underrepresented compared to the population of our state. In the fall of 2014, 7% of students enrolled at UW were Latino, and only 3.5% were African American. Statewide, of the college-age population, 16% were Latino and 6.7% were African American.

I have represented people in discrimination lawsuits for most of my legal career. When I see these kinds of disparities, it is clear to me that I-200 has failed to meet its intended goal and that now is the time to truly level the playing field so we all have a fair shot at reaching our full potential.

[To all who emailed me with the subject line “Reward or punish for SB 6406”: Offering a campaign contribution to me or threatening to donate to a political opponent based on my vote on legislation repealing I-200 is illegal under Washington State law. If you sent me such a message, you did not get a response from me as I will not engage with constituents in this manner. Please also know you are welcome to discuss this and other legislation with me in my district office or over the phone anytime – to set up a meeting email Thank you!]