OLYMPIA—Gov. Chris Gregoire has directed state government to boost opportunities for women and minorities to land state contracts, saying their share has sunk to 1 percent or less.
Tim Eyman, the original sponsor of the state's voter-approved initiative rolling back affirmative action in contracts, employment and college admission, said the governor may be trying an end-run around Initiative 200. He said he's preparing a "Son of I-200" for a potential campaign next year.
But Carolyn Crowson, director of the state Office of Minority & Women's Business Enterprises, said the governor's Monday letter to her cabinet is perfectly legal.
I-200 forbids any preferential treatment based on race or gender, but allows "outreach" efforts to include women and minorities in the pool of qualified applicants for procurements and contracts, she said in an interview.
"Outreach is legal," she said. "We work with Initiative 200 and we know what we can and cannot do."
Her agency Web site provides elaboration. Goals, preferences or consideration of race and gender are forbidden, but the office can certify and recruit qualified companies and monitor how they fare, the posting said.
Gregoire said state contracts with minority-owned businesses have dropped from 5 percent to 1 percent over the past six years and that women-owned businesses have seen their percentage shrink from 4 percent to 1 percent in the same period.
"I am very concerned about this sharp decline in diversity contracting," the governor said in a statement released by her office. "While minority- and women-owned businesses are flourishing in Washington, our utilization of these businesses has declined.
"I believe in fair and competitive access to all contracting and procurement opportunities. We are not doing enough to support these principles. We can and should do better."
State agencies benefit by working with a diverse pool of private contractors, the governor said.
Eyman, who co-sponsored the 1998 initiative later spearheaded by conservative commentator John Carlson, said Gregoire seems to be asking agencies to wink at I-200.
"Government should treat everyone the same, but the further you get from an election, elected officials think no one is looking," he said.
Contracting was included in the initiative as a taxpayer protection, he said.
— The Associated Press