By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says he wants suggestions on how to improve the outreach to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, as well as others.
He added these communities are “so important and so productive economically and culturally.”
“They have specific needs that might be a little different than other parts of the state, and we want to know about those,” Inslee said during an Aug. 15 media availability at the Westin Building in Seattle.
The Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan institute, reports the majority of AAPIs — 69 percent of Asian American voters and 74 percent of Pacific Islander voters — said that “no one had contacted them about the election” in 2012.
“The Voting Rights Act is a really important tool to give people democracy, and when you give them confidence that their vote will count, they tend to vote more,” Inslee added.
He also answered political questions from minority journalists at the media availability, urging one course of action for voters.
Inslee said, “The most important thing we can do is to send people to U.S. Congress who believe in comprehensive immigration reform, and most of those people have a D (Democrat) behind their name, and this is just extremely important.”
“Bringing 11 million people out of the shadows, so that their kids can go to school and they can go to work and they can pay their taxes. That’s a benefit for the whole country.”
Among his minority hiring and appointments (judicial, staff, cabinet, etc.), 25 percent are minority and 75 percent are white. For boards and commissions only, 24 percent are minority and 76 percent are white.
“People understand bringing in new talent, new creativity, new diversity is an inspiring story in our state, and we’re going to continue our efforts to make sure that that happens,” Inslee said about finding talent in minority communities.
He says being the governor of Washington is “the best job in America.”
“I didn’t understand how big our state was when I took this job, getting to know personally 7 million people is a challenge.”
After four years on the job as the state’s chief executive, he is most proud of his accomplishments in education. Last year, he and state legislators put an additional $2.3 billion towards early learning, K-12, and higher education.
“We’ve increased early childhood education because I think it’s the single most impactful on people’s lives,” Inslee said, about giving access to 7,000 more children over the past three years. “We’ve had one of the largest expansions in early childhood education, very important in the diverse communities.”
A Results Washington report states this increased access prepares children for success in school and life.
While early childhood education is his proudest accomplishment as governor, the lack of diversity in state contracting has not been. In 2015, diverse businesses made up only about 1 percent of the $6.1 billion that Washington state spends annually with the private sector for goods and services contracts and public works projects.
“This has been really frustrating to me that we have not moved the needle on this, so we have gone back to the drawing board and intensified our efforts to look for a new way to do that,” Inslee said.
Last August, he created a subcabinet dedicated to increasing access to state contracts for small and minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses.
“One of the challenges is the complexity of the contracting process with the state, and we’re trying to educate people about how to do that,” he said.
Empowering people is key to getting them more involved in public affairs, including merely speaking into a microphone at school board meetings.
“Encouraging people even personally to engage,” Inslee said. “I’ve learned that when people feel a sense of power that they can accomplish good things. Simple things get them on the path to doing great things.”
“Just a simple thing of getting people to participate in any way, to give them the validation that their voice counts by getting them to find any way to share that voice.”
On the proposed increase in the state’s minimum wage, Inslee says he wants to build an economy that helps every family, one based on a “rock-solid principle.”
“If you work 40 hours a week, you ought to have a roof over your head and food on the table. And right now, our minimum wage is archaic.”
The incremental increase of Washington’s minimum wage to $13.50 an hour “keeps up with changing circumstances, so I’m very excited about it, and I hope it will pass.”
On combatting prejudice and bias in state government, Inslee said, “Once you recognize that, then you start to figure out what we can do about that, and there are a number of things. Number one, we try to get people to be culturally aware of this.”
Cultural competency training for his top 100 managers has already happened.
For more information on board and commission opportunities, go to governor.wa.gov/boards-commissions/boards-commissions/upcoming-appointment-opportunities.
For more information on the Business Diversity Initiative, go to omwbe.wa.gov/governor-business-diversity-initiative.
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.