About 15 years ago, we hired an employee with developmental disabilities at The World. Brian was hired because I felt that he could make a contribution to the company and because I thought it would be a productive way to help our staff gain a greater understanding and appreciation of folks with developmental disabilities.
At the time, some employees weren’t sure this was a good idea and expressed concerns about what behaviors that Brian might introduce to the workplace.
Brian, as it turns out, was a good employee and a real character, to boot. Had we gone out to hire the best and brightest to do the work, Brian would never have gotten an interview, let alone become a fixture in the company for more than a decade. He enriched the company in unique ways.
The experience that reminded me that there is value in a workplace trying to reflect as much as possible the entire community and hiring people with different life experiences and capabilities is beneficial.
It also reminded me that the playing field is far from level in our society — that those of us with wealth and privilege start the race of life with a significant advantage over others.
These thoughts have led me to support Referendum 88, which would restore the ability for public agencies in this state to take into consideration factors that traditionally have hindered participation in the workplace and getting government contracts, such as veterans, people in the LGBTQ community, racial minorities, people with disabilities, etc. Significantly, there would be no hiring quota or preference. It would merely allow those factors to be considered.
The Legislature approved Initiative 1000 this year and voters have a chance to confirm or reject it by voting on Referendum 88. Since Initiative 200, a ban on affirmative action, was passed in 1998, we have seen our universities become significantly less diverse.
A key supporter of Referendum 88 is former Republican Governor Dan Evans, one of this state’s greatest statesmen. At the Mainstream Republican conference in Leavenworth this summer, Evans urged those attending to give Initiative 1000 a chance rather than killing it outright.
I am unconvinced by the views of the opposition. It pains me to see opponents characterize it as discrimination. It seems disingenuous to argue that we are now in a post-racial period and that the playing field is level in our country. The facts don’t support that position.
Consider the genocide (literal and cultural) that our Native American neighbors have endured and the ongoing damage. Native American economic viability and health outcomes are far below those of Anglos.
The same is true of African Americans because of the impact of slavery that has morphed into other, more subtle forms of discrimination.
The damage that was done to those cultures continues to affect the lives, health and well being of those remaining in our midst.
If we look at it — not from an individual perspective but from the population as a whole — the unequal starting places and opportunities in life that happen because of discrimination, social status or economic disparities, the playing field remains uneven. Getting ahead in life will favor those with the greatest resources, although there will be individual exceptions.
I am committed to the notion that we need to find creative ways to work and live together and create opportunities for those who have traditionally been left behind. A community is strongest when it taps into the skills and talents of as many members as possible.
We should approve Referendum 88 to create opportunities for everyone to participate in the success of this country.
Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 665-1162.