Manka Dhingra and Jinyoung Englund
Manka Dhingra and Jinyoung Englund square off in a candidate debate

Ear­li­er this evening in NPI’s home­town of Red­mond, the League of Women Vot­ers of Seat­tle-King Coun­ty held a can­di­date forum to give res­i­dents on the East­side a chance to hear from the can­di­dates run­ning to rep­re­sent the 45th and 48th Leg­isla­tive Dis­tricts in this year’s spe­cial elec­tions for state Senate.

The forum was pre­sent­ed in a debate for­mat, with 48th LD Sen­ate can­di­dates Pat­ty Kud­er­er and Michelle Dar­nell squar­ing off first, fol­lowed by 45th LD Sen­ate can­di­dates Man­ka Dhin­gra and Jiny­oung Lee Englund.

The con­test in the 45th is con­sid­ered the mar­quee race in the state this year because its out­come will decide who con­trols the Wash­ing­ton State Senate.

If Englund wins, the Repub­li­cans will main­tain a nar­row grip on the cham­ber. But if Dhin­gra wins, the Sen­ate will flip and five years of Repub­li­can rule will be over.

As long­time read­ers of the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate are well aware, Repub­li­cans have repeat­ed­ly used their major­i­ty in the Sen­ate to bury a slew of wor­thy bills passed by the state House and backed by Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee. Bills like the Equal Pay Oppor­tu­ni­ty Act, which would pro­hib­it employ­ers from engag­ing in dis­crim­i­na­tion on the basis of gen­der or retal­i­at­ing against employ­ees who ini­ti­ate dis­cus­sions about their com­pen­sa­tion with man­age­ment or fel­low employees.

A num­ber of Repub­li­cans in the House vot­ed for this well-craft­ed equal pay leg­is­la­tion when it came up for a vote on March 8th and May 1st.

Sad­ly, in the Sen­ate, House Bill 1506 stalled out after it got to the Sen­ate Rules Com­mit­tee. It nev­er made it to the floor for a vote.

The Equal Pay Oppor­tu­ni­ty Act is an excel­lent exam­ple of sen­si­ble leg­is­la­tion that ought to have already land­ed on Gov­er­nor Inslee’s desk and been added to the Revised Code of Wash­ing­ton, but has­n’t… because Repub­li­cans run the Senate.

It was fit­ting, then, that one of the ques­tions mod­er­a­tor Natal­ie Brand asked Man­ka Dhin­gra and Jiny­oung Lee Englund in tonight’s debate was Do you sup­port equal pay leg­is­la­tion? The answers they gave could hard­ly have been more different.

MODERATOR NATALIE BRAND: Next ques­tion. Ms. Dhin­gra will start. Do you sup­port equal pay leg­is­la­tion? Why or why not?

DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE MANKA DHINGRA: Absolute­ly! I, for one, am tired of get­ting paid sev­en­ty-six cents to the dol­lar. You know, I start­ed [Chaya, an orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to com­bat­ing domes­tic vio­lence] when I was twen­ty-two years old. I have been fight­ing for equi­ty and social jus­tice my entire life.

I think it is com­plete­ly ridicu­lous, actu­al­ly, that women are not paid the same as men. And it starts by mak­ing sure that we take a stand and say Enough is enough. Equal pay for equal work. Period.

REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE JINYOUNG LEE ENGLUND: You know, I think there’s no dis­agree­ment that women should be treat­ed equal­ly as men.  I think we as a soci­ety acknowl­edge that. And through­out my life­time as a pro­fes­sion­al, you know, I have nev­er felt dis­crim­i­nat­ed against, though at times I’ve won­dered if, Hm… I won­der if I could have nego­ti­at­ed my salary bet­ter. But I think I have been lucky in that the peo­ple that I’ve cho­sen to work for have always treat­ed me with kind­ness and with fair­ness and I’ve… if I have nego­ti­at­ed some­thing that I did with the skills and the tools that I have. And I think women should be bet­ter equipped to have those nego­ti­at­ing skills.

When it comes to this equal pay, you know, ques­tion, I — with­out a doubt — I think there are some orga­ni­za­tions that may dis­crim­i­nate against women, and those need to be called out. But as a leg­is­la­ture and as an elect­ed offi­cial, I think the right way to approach some­thing like this is the way, the same way, that our Leg­is­la­ture approached the Paid Fam­i­ly Leave Act. So Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Joe Fain actu­al­ly led the paid fam­i­ly leave bill for our state. And what he did was he was able to bring busi­ness togeth­er with unions, with com­mu­ni­ty, and have a con­ver­sa­tion about hey, where’s a good place to start. And that bill passed — again — on a bipar­ti­san basis. And I think that we as leg­is­la­tors, instead of com­ing in and telling peo­ple what to do or how to live their lives, we need to engage peo­ple on all dif­fer­ent sides, in order to get to a solu­tion that works… that works for all people.

One sim­ple ques­tion, two very dif­fer­ent answers.

From Man­ka Dhin­gra, we heard a clear and unam­bigu­ous answer: Yes! I sup­port equal pay for equal work. Peri­od! We know how she’d vote on House Bill 1506.

From Jiny­oung Englund, we heard a non-answer. Englund had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to sim­ply agree with Dhin­gra and show she does­n’t always agree with the Repub­li­can Par­ty line (which she actu­al­ly attempt­ed to do at oth­er points dur­ing the debate, if only half­heart­ed­ly). But she blew that oppor­tu­ni­ty here, big time.

Englund could­n’t even bring her­self to endorse the basic con­cept of pay equi­ty. Instead, she lame­ly sug­gest­ed women should be bet­ter equipped to have nego­ti­at­ing skills. And then, incred­u­lous­ly, she sug­gest­ed the Leg­is­la­ture should approach the issue by con­ven­ing a meet­ing of the minds.… when it already has.

As men­tioned ear­li­er, leg­is­la­tion is on the table that would address unequal pay — leg­is­la­tion that over ten Repub­li­cans in the House have bro­ken ranks to sup­port. Leg­is­la­tion that even man­aged to earn a “do pass” rec­om­men­da­tion (albeit with amend­ments) out of a com­mit­tee con­trolled by extrem­ist Repub­li­can Michael Baum­gart­ner, who rep­re­sents sub­ur­ban Spokane.

We’re way past the point where we need to ask the ques­tion Where’s a good place to start? We’ve got a good bill ready to go. It just needs to get a vote in the Sen­ate. And it almost assured­ly will if Man­ka Dhin­gra wins.

But if Jiny­oung Englund wins, the Equal Pay Oppor­tu­ni­ty Act will like­ly get buried again. And judg­ing by what she said tonight, she won’t have a prob­lem with that.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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