The Corner

Politics & Policy

Washington State Voters Overcome Doublespeak, Reject Racial Preferences Again

Washington State Capitol building in Olympia (Pixabay)

By a slim margin, Washington state voters appear to have rejected the legislature’s attempt to reinstate racial preferences. (The result is still unofficial.) Both Heather Mac Donald and Peter Kirsanow summarized the history of this issue for NR last month. Essentially, a 1998 voter referendum outlawed the use of racial preferences by the state of Washington, but this year the legislature passed Initiative 1000 that would reverse that referendum. Opponents of preferences, led in large part by Asian Americans, then put a new referendum on the ballot that would allow voters to reject I-1000 and keep the 1998 ban on racial preferences in place.

The doublespeak that voters needed to overcome in order to reject I-1000 was brazen. The legislature of course described racial preferences euphemistically as “affirmative action” and of course denied that the government would be implementing “quotas.” That rhetoric is standard. But the legislature went even further by claiming that affirmative action would be pursued without “preferential treatment” for any group. How to give preference without giving preferential treatment is a mystery that the world’s top linguists would have trouble solving.

Here is the referendum that voters saw on their ballots, with my emphasis:

The legislature passed Initiative Measure No. 1000 concerning affirmative action and remedying discrimination, and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this act. Initiative 1000 would allow the state to remedy discrimination for certain groups and to implement affirmative action, without the use of quotas or preferential treatment (as defined), in public education, employment, and contracting. Should Initiative 1000 be Approved [ ] Rejected [ ]

One assumes that the modifier “as defined” is doing some pretty heavy lifting there, but neither the ballot title nor the summary provided the newspeak definition of “preferential treatment.” Turning to I-1000’s full text, we finally find it:

“Preferential treatment” means the act of using race . . . as the sole qualifying factor to select a lesser qualified candidate over a more qualified candidate.

In other words, preferences do not count as preferential treatment as long as their use is limited in some vague, unenforceable way. This defies all common-sense understanding of “without the use of . . . preferential treatment” — which I suppose is the point. It’s an attempt to disguise the same old preference system that, as Mac Donald points out, is used throughout the country to effect racial balancing — sometimes on a grand scale.

If I-1000 had been written using clear and neutral language — e.g., “Preferences for racial or ethnic minorities shall be allowed in the operation of public employment, public education, and public contracting” — one gets the feeling that it would have been rejected with a much larger majority. Of course, activists always try to frame their positions in the most favorable light, but supporters of I-1000 went much further, into the realm of outright deceit, by attempting to convince voters that their legislation would not do what it was designed to do. Shame on them.

Jason Richwine is a public-policy analyst and a contributor to National Review Online.

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