Offer principled stance on outreach and equity work
The 2021 legislative session saw an emphasis on bills aimed at addressing racial inequities. Democratic leaders early on had indicated that in the constrained virtual session, bills would be limited to a few critical areas, equity being one of them. However, proposals claiming to help disadvantaged communities were largely special interest-driven policies to grow state government.
On the final day of the legislative session, Senate Republican Caucus leaders announced the creation of the new Office of Community Engagement and Inclusion to address these same issues in a principled, authentic, and holistic way.
The office will be headed by a small group of community advocate-senators and overseen directly by the SRC leadership structure. Sens. Ron Muzzall, R-Oak Harbor, Ann Rivers, R-La Center and Chris Gildon, R-Puyallup, comprise the core group that will drive the CEI office’s work.
“This is something that we need to do,” said Muzzall. “Our state is very diverse and getting more so, and we need to make sure we are hearing from and working for all Washingtonians. While the other side does a good job talking about these issues, the actual policies coming from Olympia aren’t helping disadvantaged communities. I believe our principles will win out with groups who are not engaged in the process. We just need to make the more concerted effort to listen.”
“We welcome this effort by the Senate Republican Caucus to truly engage marginalized communities and organizations like ours,” said Linda Yang, Director of Washington Asians For Equality. “During this past session, we were shut out, and ignored. Public hearings became a staged show for special interest groups and organizations. The public and grassroots organizations were denied opportunities to meaningfully participate in the process, and our repeated requests to draw attention to anti-Asian racism were ignored. This office will be a valuable resource for marginalized groups to be heard.”
“We have had an informal outreach capacity for several years in our caucus, but this new office is a demonstration that we are serious about addressing these issues,” said Rivers, who chairs the Senate Republican Caucus. “We aren’t going to be about messaging bills or photo ops; we are getting to work on real policies that empower disadvantaged communities in our state.”
“Institutionalizing policy work for the broader communities of color in Washington state that includes real engagement and discussions of inclusion is a big step,” said Frank Lemos, President of the National Minority Business Advisory Council, (MBAC), a nonpartisan policy think-tank focused on advocacy for the minority business community in public contracting. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with Senate Republican leaders on issues of concern of our communities of color and the creation of this office demonstrates they are serious about the work that lies ahead. Since the passage of Initiative 200 in 1998, small minority businesses in our state have been devastated. I’m looking forward to meaningful dialogue on addressing proven disparate impacts in state public contracting that violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964.”
The Office of Community Engagement and Inclusion will work with community groups and legislators to develop a plan for the remainder of the year, including guiding principles and policy opportunities in advance of the 2022 session.