For Lis Kubo, Referendum 88 is about forging a better future for Washington.
Kubo, a tasting room associate at SuLei Cellars winery in downtown Vancouver, said women in Washington earn 78 cents on the dollar compared with what men receive in the same positions.
“I want a future where Washington state’s daughters have the same opportunities as its sons,” she said during Tuesday’s news conference supporting Referendum 88 at SuLei Cellars.
The ballot measure would allow Washington to implement affirmative action in public hiring, education or contracting.
The 2019 Legislature passed Initiative 1000, which would overturn Tim Eyman’s Initiative 200 in 1998 that forbids governments from using race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in public hiring, education or contracting.
Opponents gathered enough votes to refer the Legislature’s decision to voters, who will be asked to approve or reject Initiative 1000 in the Nov. 5 election.
As of Tuesday, Clark County elections already had received about 4,500 ballots from county voters.
Cherika Carter, WA Fairness campaign manager, said Referendum 88 backers have attracted a broad base of business supporters.
“All of us have come together to say we need fairness and opportunity in Washington state,” Carter said.
Steven Johnson, Camas resident and member of VoteVets.org, said he spent 24 years as a naval reservist and participated in seven deployments.
“For too many returning vets, jobs are hard to find,” he said. “As veterans, we do not ask for preferential treatment. We ask that our status as veterans be recognized.”
Shannon Myers, president of the Southwest Washington Central Labor Council representing 50 union locals and more than 15,000 union members, also supported Referendum 88.
“The labor movements fought discrimination and is fighting for equality every single day,” she said.
Washington voters approved Initiative 200 with 57 percent of the vote. The results were more lopsided in Clark County, with 70 percent of voters backing the measure.
State Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, said since Initiative 200 was approved, the percent of state business tax revenue from women- and minority-owned businesses has fallen from 10 percent to 3 percent.
Carter said passage of Referendum 88 would allow outreach to women- and minority-owned businesses so they could better compete for government contracts.
“When people don’t know, they can’t play the game,” she said.
Stonier said Washington is one of only eight states that have banned affirmative action.
“This is not about preferential treatment,” she said. “It’s about making sure everyone has the same access to opportunity.”
An explanatory statement written by the Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office offers some clarity over what the referendum would do.
The statement, which can be found on Page 10 of the voters’ pamphlet, says the state could “remedy documented discrimination” through recruitment, promotion and other outreach.
It would not lead to quotas, where a percentage of open jobs or university enrollment slots are reserved for minorities and other underrepresented populations.
“Affirmative action could not be used to impose quotas,” the explanatory statement says. “In addition, race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sexual orientation, sensory, mental or physical disability, and veteran or military status could not be used as the sole qualifying factor to select a less-qualified person over a more-qualified person.”
During the 2019 Legislature, all Democratic lawmakers from Southwest Washington supported Initiative 1000 and all Republicans from the area opposed it.
Last month, the Clark County Republican Central Committee unanimously urged voters to reject Referendum 88.
“This initiative abolishes the standard of equality for all, regardless of race, as is currently required by the voter-approved Washington Civil Rights Act,” the local GOP wrote in a news release. “If passed with a vote to approve, a new system would be created to use different discrimination rules for people of different races.”