LACEY, Wash. - The recent passage of Initiative 200, the "affirmative action," issue on the Nov.3 Washington state ballot, may have widespread effects on existing agreements between local tribes and the State of Washington.
"The state and individual tribal governments have come to agree on natural resource issues, gaming issues, tobacco sales, fuel sales relative to state taxes," said former Gov. Mike Lowry. "This, at the least, throws a legal cloud on all that."
Of additional concern is the possible elimination of job training programs aimed towards assisting women and minorities, targeted educational opportunities and the maintaining of eligibility for existing federal programs.
Interpretation of the vaguely worded Initiative's ban on preferential treatment based on race, ethnicity and gender, has government attorneys and policy-makers state-wide busy trying to figure out how to turn I-200 into law.
The most significant question of interpretation is how the initiative's prohibition of preferential treatment will jibe with existing statutes that mandate affirmative action or increased opportunities for women and racial and ethnic minorities in public employment, education and contracting. Law-makers have 30 days to complete the task.
Reaction to the ballot's passage by tribal opponents state-wide is uniform dismay.
'We're just extremely disappointed it passed," said the Colville tribe's communications spokesman, Sheila Whitelaw. "We consider it a major set-back to the overall accomplishments of affirmative action."
The Colville tribe contributed $5,000 to the No! 200 campaign. Many members spent long hours studying the potential impact of the initiative and campaigning against its passage. But despite ethnic and minority opposition, I-200 passed with 58 percent of the vote, winning in every county in the state except one.
"I think personally that it was the wording," Whitelaw said. "The wording seemed to reaffirm affirmative action."
Proponents of I-200 believe the initiative's passage indicates a major interest in, and commitment to, affirmative action by Washington state voters. According to a recent article in The Seattle Times, the two top reasons voters gave for supporting I-200 were that they believed it would end preferential treatment for minorities and women, and that it would guarantee greater governmental and educational equality.
Gov. Gary Locke however, in a pre-election statement, expressed concern about the wording and the consequences I-200 could have.
'At first glance it appears to promote equality," the governor said. "But in reality, it very likely will have the opposite effect? Because of its vague and broadly written language, I-200 can and will be read many ways. It is confusing and will create a tangle of expensive lawsuits."
Washington is the second state in the country to approve such a ballot measure.An estimated 38 states across the nation also considered such action.