Spokane Democrats settle with community

Scott Watanabe July 15, 1995 0

An accord has been reached between the Spokane County Democratic Party and the plaintiffs in a civil suit filed against it in U.S. District Court stemming from racist actions on the part of some of the party’s members.

In a statement made on June 28, current Washington State Democratic party chair Paul Berendt expressed his regret over the incident and his conviction against similar happenings in the future.

“As long as I am chair of the Democratic Party in this state, I will not tolerate bigotry of any kind,” Berendt said. “And I want to extend to every Asian Pacific American in this state my own apology, on behalf of the Washington State Democratic Central Committee for this matter.”

The incident in question occurred in November 1992 at a meeting of the Spokane Democratic Party Executive Board, where a state committee member allegedly used a racial slur in reference to the owners of the historic Davenport Hotel. When asked about the remark later, the same committee member allegedly refused to apologize and said “I’d do it again.”

The incident and its subsequent handling by the Spokane County Affirmative Action Committee led to the suit filed on Nov. 16, 1993, by the Spokane Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and five other individual plaintiffs against the State Democratic Central Committee, its chair, the state vice chair, the state committee member and the assistant legislative district leader.

Although the suit itself is still pending, the plaintiffs and the Party Central Committee have reached an agreement on steps to help resolve the conflict, including: the adoption of an affirmative action plan for selection of state delegates to the 1996 Democratic National Convention, the development of a grievance procedure to address affirmative action issues in the future, and a full apology on behalf of the Party Central Committee. As of this writing, two of the officials involved in the controversy are no longer in party positions, while a third has stepped down as a result of the proceedings.

In response to the Central Committee’s actions, Denny Yasuhara, national president of the JACL and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, emphasized the positive results of the incidents.

“What began as a racial…incident has culminated in a process which allows the Democratic Party to be more inclusive toward participation by people of color,” he said. “We appreciate the leadership of the Spokane County Democratic Central Committee who decided to work with us for a resolution of our grievances.”

Karen Yoshitomi of the Pacific Northwest District Office of the JACL in Seattle expressed the feelings of the chapter, “We’re happy for the apology,” she said, “but not satisfied. There is still more to be done.”

The proposed affirmative action plan for the Democratic National Convention is to be implemented on Sept. 15 of this year.

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