How Off the Mark Were Senator Das’ Remarks?
During the June 20th Kent Chamber of Commerce Legislative Wrap-up Membership Luncheon, Senator Mona Das (D-Kent, 47th LD) made several assertions that have called into question the Democratic Caucus’ closed-door decorum.
“After they close that door, that’s when it gets real,” Das stated in her June 20th remarks. “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. That’s the type of light I want to shine. Now, when there are eight people of color in the Senate Democratic caucus, it was coded language instead, ‘those people.’ They would say things that were coded.”
Clarifying her Statement
The following week Das shared an email on her personal Facebook that she sent to her fellow caucus members:
“You may read a story in the Kent Reporter that talks about racism in the legislature. While it makes good copy for a story, it neglects to include the context of my remarks.
Like every institution, we have work to do on structural issues and implied bias in our work. I was not singling out the Senate for those issues or bias. I was merely stating that every institution faces those issues.
Compared to many other institutions, our caucus understands that these issues are there and I’m excited to work with all of you to continue to address these challenges.
Based on this mischaracterization of my remarks, I am going to start the process of introducing a bill that addresses these issues throughout State Government. I’ll keep you posted.”
Das recanted her allegation that the Kent Reporter misquoted her in a June 28th Seattle Times article. In that same article Das further clarified her statements, stating that she was speaking about the use of terms like “those people” and similar language that acts 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,” said Das.
Senate Inquiry Triggered
After being made aware of Das’ speech in Kent, Washington State Senate Secretary Brad Hendrickson called for an inquiry into the allegations made. “The allegations as reported point to possible violations of the senate’s Appropriate Workplace Conduct policy,” explained Hendrickson.
When asked if he had any concerns that Das has said she was misquoted or has now clarified her statements to be softer in nature, Hendrickson confirmed he “can’t comment as this will be part of the inquiry.”
Das has confirmed to the Seattle Times she does not plan to file a formal complaint with the Senate. “If I had a complaint, I would have to complain about the entire world,” she said. “Racism, sexism, white privilege, misogyny, it’s everywhere.”
Democrats Step Up, Back Das
President pro tempore of the Washington Senate and fellow Kent Senator Karen Keiser (D-Kent, 33rd LD) was not present at the Kent Chamber of Commerce during Das’ remarks but spoke with her at a later time. “I don’t fully understand the precise issues there, but I do give credence to her lack of comfort and sense of feeling out of place or somehow not being included.”
“I sit beside her in caucus,” Keiser continued, “we talk a lot as we share a boundary, and many of our community concerns are shared. So, we discussed [many] issues. But I don’t think we had any problems.”
As the longest sitting Democrat, Keiser is the longest sitting Democrat in the Washington State Senate. “I have been in the legislature a while, quite a while, and [the sexism and misogyny] has improved,” said Keiser. “I’ll tell you it has improved greatly since I started working as first a state Representative and then a Senator. No institution is perfect. No school, no business, and no legislature are perfect. They’re all subject to implicit bias, which is an unconsciousness about race and gender issues.”
Keiser reflected on the generational differences, speaking to the potential language that once was commonplace but that may now be seen as unacceptable. “Someone from a certain generation may say ‘could you girls get me a cup of coffee,’ and now may see an issue. However, from another perspective – no. It is important that change comes about, so there isn’t an undercurrent of implicit bias.”
Washington State Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane, 3rd LD) agrees with Das’ statements about “institutional racism in state government, the legislature and society as a whole and I think we have a lot of work to do in that regard to remove that implicit bias that we see.”
“I think there’s already a lot of positive work going on in this regard,” Billig continued. “Even in this session, with the youth detention bill that was passed. The Criminal Justice System certainly has room to improve when it comes to institutional racism, and we took a significant step related to juvenile justice with the Youth Detention Bill.”
Billig also spoke to the Senate’s passing of the Appropriate Workplace Conduct policy, which permitted the inquiry into Das’ allegations.
Both Billig and Keiser shared that the Democratic Caucus have plans to discuss topics such as those raised by Das at their fall retreat. “I wouldn’t say that what we’re doing is in response to Senator Das. This is stuff that was already planned,” said Billig. “We as a caucus and institution had recognized we have work to do when it comes to institutional racism in our society, and we wanted to make sure we were doing the work amongst ourselves to continue to get better. We had identified during session a number of [issues] that would be beneficial to talk about, and how to get better and how to recognize our own societal issues.”
The inquiry into Das’ comments is still on-going.