OLYMPIA — A Washington Senate review found no evidence of Democratic state senators making sexist or racist statements in closed-door meetings, as one lawmaker alleged in June.
Released Monday, the report comes after remarks by Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, that she had encountered “hate, sexism, racism and misogyny” during Democratic caucus meetings during this year’s legislative session.
“After they close that door, that’s when it gets real,” Das said in June at a Kent Chamber of Commerce 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.”
In the wake of those remarks, the Senate undertook a review that found that there are still concerns about institutional and unconscious bias at the Legislature.
“However, every member of the Democratic Caucus who was interviewed for this inquiry firmly denied ever hearing sexist or racist statements by their colleagues in caucus,” the report concluded.
Das — the owner of a mortgage business who came to the U.S. from India with her family as a child — told the Senate human-resources officer that she regretted using that language, according to the report.
The lawmaker said she did not mean to suggest that her fellow Democrats used overtly racist or sexist terms.
Rather, Das said she meant to convey that a handful of fellow Democrats, whom she did not name, “were purportedly dismissive and disrespectful when members of color raised concerns that specific legislation could disproportionately impact communities of color.”
Das could not be immediately reached for comment. In a statement, she said, “Institutional racism affects the lives of people throughout our state through policies, laws and the actions of others.”
“While this bias is often unconscious and unintentional, it still has a profound effect on people who have been historically marginalized, and it should be taken seriously,” said Das, who was first elected last year.
For the Senate report, a human-resources officer interviewed a dozen Democratic senators, including seven of the caucus’s eight members of color.
Some of those lawmakers agreed with Das that when Democratic lawmakers discussed bills this year, two or three senators “conveyed limited interest in discussing potential disparate impacts on communities of color.”
Several lawmakers, however, including senators of color, also said that the remarks by Das dismayed them.
“First, they were upset because her assertion that members said sexist and racist things in the caucus room was untrue and disparaging,” according to the report. “Second, they felt that her reference to caucus room debates was a breach of professional trust that may inhibit open and candid exchanges moving forward.”
In a statement, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Andy Billig of Spokane called it, “gratifying but not surprising that the investigator found no incidents of racism or sexism in our caucus room.”
“I am proud of our record on these issues, but we can always do more,” Billig added later. “As the report states, institutional biases exist in the Legislature as they exist in most institutions.”