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.