More than 20 years ago, Washington voters shocked the political establishment by approving Initiative 200, which banned affirmative action programs aimed at helping women and minorities gain access to public colleges, contracting and employment.

This fall, a ballot measure will test whether attitudes have changed. In the Nov. 5 election, voters will decide whether to repeal a law, known as Initiative 1000, passed by the Legislature that restores affirmative action programs to the state. A vote of “yes” on Referendum 88 would maintain the affirmative action law, while a “no” vote would abolish it.

On Episode 113 of The Overcast, The Seattle Times politics and news podcast, we hear from an opponent of the affirmative-action law. Kan Qiu, a Bellevue resident who is part of the Reject 88 campaign and a member of Washington Asians for Equality, argues that I-1000 would impose what amounts to racial quotas.

“Our fight against Initiative 1000 is really a fight against racial preferences and racial discrimination,” Qiu says. “We want equality for all regardless of your skin color.”

[Note: we’ve invited a supporter of I-1000 to appear on the podcast next week.]

Although the text of I-1000 bans quotas or preferential treatment based solely on race, Qiu argues that its effort to set goals for hiring and contracting amounts to the same thing. “We don’t see the boundary here,” he says.

Qiu, a Bellevue resident who immigrated to the U.S. from China after participating in the Tiananmen Square student protests of 1989, was previously involved in a fight in the Bellevue School District over equity efforts, and contends the law would be harmful to Asian Americans.


He rejects the idea that affirmative action is needed to remedy historical wrongs including slavery and Jim Crow laws despite ongoing disparities in contracting and education. Qiu even compares I-1000 to Jim Crow. “I actually don’t see the difference,” he says, arguing both are “government-sanctioned discrimination.”

Listen to the whole discussion — including a debate over whether I-1000 would have an impact on existing veteran preferences in state law — and prep for our upcoming talk with I-1000 supporters.

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