- Associated Press - Monday, April 29, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Opponents of Washington’s affirmative action initiative filed a referendum Monday to force a popular vote on the measure, the day after it passed the state Legislature.

They will have 90 days to gather 129,811 valid signatures in order to override the Legislature’s approval of the measure and force onto the ballot in November.

The affirmative action measure, Initiative 1000, is set to allow state agencies and schools to consider factors like race in hiring, and engage in targeted outreach and recruitment. Technically an initiative to the Legislature, lawmakers were able to approve it themselves without sending it to a vote; it passed the House and Senate late Sunday night.

Initiative 1000 prohibits using a factor like race as the sole qualifier for an otherwise less-qualified applicant, and also prohibits mandatory quotas. Instead, it permits state agencies to establish diversity goals and timelines, and consider membership in a minority group as a contributing factor for an applicant.

The proposal has exposed deep disagreement, with advocates and critics alike pointing to ideals of fairness and equal opportunity as justifying their stance.

To advocates, the proposal is a way to create opportunities for groups that, especially because of historical discrimination, end up under-represented in education and employment.

“We can’t close our eyes and say there’s no racism or institutionalized racism or institutionalized barriers, because there are” said Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, during debate ahead of Sunday’s vote in the state Legislature.

“Race is intertwined with the economic insecurity that comes as a result of not having that privilege to have doors opened for you, or to have somebody mentor you on what the right way to do something is. You might not even know that there is a way.”

But critics charge that creating additional or special opportunities or assistance for one group defeats the idea of equality itself. Linda Yang, who helped organize opposition to the initiative, said that while she wasn’t against outreach to disadvantaged groups, she thought it should target economically disadvantaged people more broadly, rather than specific racial groups.

“I am not against helping people in need. I’m against using a different standard based on race.”

Yang helped start two groups that have opposed the measure, American Coalition for Equality and Washington Asians for Equality.

Along with race, the measure allows consideration of sex, ethnicity, age, disability, and honorably discharged or military status.

Affirmative action has been illegal in Washington since a separate initiative, I-200, overturned an earlier version of the policy in 1998.

The earlier policy included significantly more explicit measures for diversifying state workplaces and hiring: State agencies used a “plus three” system, where the seven top scoring candidates for a job would be considered as finalists along with least three applicants from a minority group who wouldn’t have otherwise scored high enough to make it into the finalist pool.

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