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Voters to decide if affirmative action returns to Washington

Should businesses and universities be allowed to consider an applicant's race or gender? R-88

Referendum 88 is on your November ballot, and if passed would change what factors organizations can consider when interviewing applicants for public education, employment, and contracting through the use of affirmative action.

The referendum was spurred by Initiative 1000, which the state Legislature passed last spring. That measure reversed a 21-year-old ban on affirmative action in Washington state.

This is something that Mary Radcliffe, 78, doesn’t want to happen. The African-American woman says she knows discrimination, because she’s lived it. Radcliffe grew up in the south before the civil rights movement.

“I kept meeting the resistance that I didn’t earn it, that I didn’t earn to be there. That’s heart wrenching,” Radcliffe said.

Radcliffe didn’t want her race to be a factor in any part of her success and that’s why more than 20 years ago Radcliffe was part of the successful campaign to eliminate the use of affirmative action in Washington state through the passage of Initiative 200.

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Longtime conservative talk show host John Carlson advocated alongside her.

“The mission back then was to put the principal of equality for all, regardless of race as the foundation for civil rights law,” Carlson said.

That was in 1998. Fast forward to present day, and there is a renewed effort to bring back affirmative action.

Advocates say certain marginalized communities are left behind in Washington state, and they believe that passing R-88, which the state Legislature passed as I-1000, will help level the playing field.

“There are definitely some disparities, and I think that I-1000 aims to resolve some of that and to address the systemic and institutional discrimination and sexism and racism that is leaving large chunks of our population behind economically,” said April Sims, secretary treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, which represents more than 600 unions across the state.

Sims is advocating for R-88, because she says it will allow employers to consider race when filling positions – information she believes will allow them to cultivate a diverse workforce.

“If you have two equally qualified candidates, this gives you the opportunity as a state agency or as a higher-ed institution to consider an applicant’s entire portfolio including race, gender, veteran status, disability, age and a number of other protected classes,” Sims said.

Those are classes she says have historically been underrepresented in certain fields across the state, and she feels R-88 is a step towards correcting this.

“This allows us to restore fairness and opportunity and create a level playing field,” Sims added.

As for Radcliffe and Carson, they both say they’re for diversity in the workplace – they just don’t believe R-88 is the way to achieve it.

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