by Lucia Vazquez
Our WA legislature received a D for its voting on racial equity bills for the 2011 and 2012 sessions. The grade came from Washington Community Action Network’s Facing Race: 2012 Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity, which assessed the Washington Legislature’s performance during the 2011 and 2012 regular sessions on issues that affect racial and economic equity. The report was endorsed by 52 organizations across the state, including PJALS. The goal of this report was to educate legislators about the impact their decisions have on communities of color that make up about 30% of Washington residents, but also to spread awareness of advancing racial equity within our state. According to the report our legislators missed eight opportunities that would have targeted gaps in income, health, education, civil rights, criminal justice, tribal sovereignty, and housing. Each legislator was issued a grade based on their own voting record and leadership to promote racial equity.
The House of Representatives received a grade of 66%, slightly higher than the Senate which earned a 61% making that a combined grade of 63%. Some very low-graded legislators serve districts with over 30% constituents of color. The report also recognized the work of seven legislators who did receive A’s–such as Spokane’s Andy Billig–and gave recommendations on bills which have already been introduced and would advance racial and economic equity in our state for the 2013 Legislature.
On all measures of equity, whether it is health, wealth, education or political representation, wide gaps persist between communities of color and white communities. These disparities are not merely vestiges of historical inequality that will diminish over time. On the contrary, many of the gaps are widening, such as the wealth gap between African Americans and whites that has quadrupled since the mid-1980s. The report points out that racial inequities are largely a result of policy decisions that are made every year by policymakers on issues such as education, housing, taxation, health care, civil rights, and tribal sovereignty.
The path toward racial equity includes the expansion of Medicaid and the implementation of the Basic Health Option, the Washington Voting Rights Act, prohibiting mandatory e-verify, abolishing the death penalty, and bills that would protect worker safety and stability, expand access to dental care and broaden access to early learning. And, to advance racial and economic equity, it is critical that the Legislature raise new revenue and ensure that everyone pays their fair share. Legislators must address our state’s regressive tax structure, in which low income residents pay a disproportionate share of state taxes. Raising new revenue from corporations and our state’s wealthiest residents will bring equity to the system and enable the state to maintain investments in health care, education and other programs that are proven to provide opportunity and create prosperity for all Washingtonians.
On Dec 10th, PJALS anchored the Spokane release of Facing Race. The event was kicked off by Tia Griffin, Washington CAN member, who opened the release and shared an education story along with five other speakers that spoke on key findings of the report. Dr. Martin Meraz Garcia, Assistant Professor at EWU, spoke on higher education; Marley Hochendoner from NW Fair Housing Alliance addressed housing; Francisco Navarro, a student leader of M.E.Ch.A of EWU, spoke on immigration; Darlene McCarty, a member of PJALS and WA CAN, told her personal health care story; and Reverend Happy Watkins addressed criminal justice. All the speakers made contributions and addressed topics that could increase racial equity in our state.
Click here for a pdf of the Executive Summary and full list of endorsing groups. For the full report visit the Washington CAN website here.