OLYMPIA — The Washington Senate plans to conduct an informal review after state Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, said she experienced “hate, sexism, racism and misogyny” during closed-door Democratic caucus meetings.
Das made those remarks last week at a Kent Chamber of Commerce legislative forum. It was first reported by the Kent Reporter.
“After they close that door, that’s when it gets real,” Das, who is in her first term, said at the forum. “That’s when my 28 colleagues got real. And that’s when I heard hate, that’s when I heard misogyny and racism and sexism from people you would not expect.”
Das, whose family moved to the U.S. from India when she was an infant and who now owns a mortgage business, said this week she was talking specifically about the use of terms like “those people” and other language that seeks to distance people in diverse groups.
“No one has said anything overtly racist or sexist, but it’s what I hear underneath it all, the coded language,” Das, 47, said Wednesday.
Secretary of the Senate Brad Hendrickson said Thursday he asked the Senate’s human-resources officer to conduct a preliminary review of the situation.
The human-resources officer is scheduled to meet with Das to see if she wants to file a complaint, and will assess if the Senate should consider any other action, Hendrickson told lawmakers at a Facilities and Operations Committee meeting.
Das said Thursday afternoon that she didn’t plan to file a formal complaint.
“If I had a complaint, I would have to complain about the entire world,” she said. “Racism, sexism, white privilege, misogyny, it’s everywhere.”
During Thursday’s meeting, Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, raised the prospect that the Senate should commission an outside investigation into the allegations.
“I think that we have to look at Sen. Das’ comments as very, very serious accusations about the Democratic caucus,” said Becker.
After the Kent Reporter article published, Das in a Facebook post accused the newspaper of mischaracterizing her words and wrote she was not singling out the Senate when discussing her concerns about implied bias.
Das on Thursday said she regretted accusing the newspaper of mischaracterizing her: “they didn’t misquote me.”
Video of her comments posted on the chamber’s Facebook page shows she was not misquoted while talking about her experience as one of eight people of color in the Senate Democratic Caucus.
“The hate, sexism, racism and misogyny I experienced when that caucus room door closed would shock only the white folks in the room because the brown folks know it’s there,” she told the group.
Das, who defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Joe Fain in November, said Wednesday her goal was to shine a light on the reality that even people who align with women or communities of color may use language that unintentionally “others” people.
“I don’t regret the conversation because now it has opened the conversation and is shining a light on inherent bias and making people think about their language,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig said he and Das have had several conversations since the article came out, and he said institutional racism was already a planned topic for an upcoming caucus retreat in October.
“I believe that institutional racism does exist in state government and the Legislature and in many institutions in our society,” he said. “Conversations like this will help us get better as a Legislature and as a state.”
Rachel La Corte of The Associated Press and Joseph O’Sullivan of The Seattle Times contributed to this report.