Joseph O’Sullivan / The Seattle Times
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday a new executive order to boost diversity in Washington’s government, and said he will roll back a long-standing directive that restricts affirmative action in state hiring, contracting and education.
The announcement, made after Inslee met Friday with Black community leaders, comes as he and state officials try to diversify government after voters in 2019 upheld a 20-year-old ban on affirmative action.
The move immediately drew applause from organizations that have pushed for greater representation and changes to address systemic racism.
But the move — which was slammed by affirmative action opponents who have won two statewide votes — could reignite a fierce and charged debate over the role of government in such matters.
Washington’s struggles over affirmative action have simmered for more than two decades. In 1998, state voters decisively supported a grassroots effort led by Tim Eyman to end affirmative action based on race or gender with Initiative 200. The results came even as voters that year supported progressive ballot measures legalizing medical marijuana and hiking the minimum wage.
In light of that vote, then-Gov. Gary Locke issued an executive directive instructing state agencies to not use affirmative action.
But a 2017 opinion by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson stated that the ban “does n
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