It’s been 21 years since Washington state voters ended affirmative action through the initiative process.

Is it now time to bring affirmative action back? No, not totally.

Yet, aspects of affirmative action that were removed with the passage of Initiative 200 in 1998 went too far.

And this why we support approval of Referendum 88, which is on the Nov. 5 ballot. R-88 affirms Initiative 1000 — known as the Washington State Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Act — that was approved by the Legislature this spring.

R-88 essentially puts I-1000 on the ballot for approval or rejection.

I-1000 allows the use of affirmative action measures in state employment, contracting and public education, including outreach and recruitment to minority candidates.

However, it does not allow the use of quotas. It also prohibits preferential treatment — defined as using factors such as race or gender as the sole criteria for selecting a less qualified candidate over a more qualified candidate.  

That’s a reasoned approach to this issue.

R-88 is supported by three former Washington state governors — Republican and Democrat — Dan Evans, Chris Gregoire and Gary Locke.

They contend that the approval of I-1000 will bring equity and opportunity — a level playing field — in state government hiring and education. They argue that since Washington is one of just eight states to ban affirmative action it has reduced consideration of minorities, women, veterans and even older people.

“There’s no preferential treatment allowed under Initiative 1000, quotas are not allowed under Initiative 1000, the hiring and admission of unqualified or lesser qualified individuals is not allowed under Initiative 1000,” Locke said earlier this year when he testified in favor of I-1000 before the Legislature.  

He also said that affirmative action had different connotations in 1998 than it does today. Back then, he said, affirmative action was associated with set-asides, preferences and quotas.

The goal of I-1000, he said, is to allow government agencies and universities to use outreach and recruitment of women and minority candidates for jobs and college enrollment.      

Proponents of I-1000 contend that in the 21 years affirmative action has been banned, it has taken a toll on minority- and women-owned businesses.  

A state analysis shows a drop in the percentage of state dollars spent with minority- and women-owned businesses — from 13% in 1998 to about 3% in 2017.

Approval of I-88, and thus I-1000, won’t create a massive shift in state hiring and college admissions. It will, however, offer reasonable steps to allow the state to seek out minority and female candidates, which should ultimately make Washington stronger. 

Editorials are the opinion of the Union-Bulletin's Editorial Board. The board is composed of Brian Hunt, Rick Eskil, James Blethen and Alasdair Stewart