First legislative visit: a student’s perspective of minority business policy

Guest blog post by Caroline Gabriel, Foster undergraduate student

Caroline Gabriel at WA State CapitolLegislature.  Am I the only one who cannot correctly pronounce the term? I looked it up and found it is pronounced “lej-is-ley-cher,” courtesy of dictionary.com. I mention this word for a reason. I am a student assistant at the UW Foster School Business and Economic Development Center (BEDC). Since coming to the University of Washington, I have had many amazing experiences.

One memorable experience transpired the morning of March 3 when I journeyed with my boss and BEDC Director Michael Verchot to the marble steps of the state’s capitol to attend a hearing of the Washington State Legislature Community & Economic Development & Trade Committee. Here, Michael gave a speech on Washington small minority-owned businesses. He drew attention to some startling data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—that while Caucasians have dealt with increasing rates of unemployment, minorities have dealt with outstandingly high rates for many years. With African-American unemployment rates at 7.8% in 2006 to 12.9% in 2009 and the Caucasian unemployment rate at 4.9% in 2006 and 8.8% in 2009, it represents a stark contrast. This fact seems to have been swept under the table of economic affairs recently. One thing the BEDC director was trying to convey was how existing policies address the problems of Caucasian businesses, such as high taxes and regulation red tape, but have failed to subscribe policies to the more prominent and recurrent problems within minority businesses.

Friendly legislators

Sitting from left to right were representatives Parker, Orcutt, Smith, Kenney (madam chair), Maxwell and Chase.  All dressed in business attire, some appearing happier than others. I always imagined representatives, any politicians really, to be boring, dry shells of government policy. I was proven wrong as I saw Representative Smith chatting away with a broad smile. Perhaps I had a misguided opinion of the people in power. It was interesting to listen to, after Michael’s presentation, a number of representatives quickly responding with very intellectual questions. I suppose you have to be intelligent and likeable to be a politician, but I was surprised by their excellent speech, even their perkiness.

Not-so-friendly questions

They asked very direct, yet sometimes infuriating questions. It was disheartening to hear them inquire why some data was not present and if BEDC could include it in its next report. The truth is that the economy, as the statistics describe, affects everyone. As a result, BEDC does not have enough funding to conduct such extensive surveys as the legislature would have liked. It seems meetings such as these would be more efficiently spent if the representatives asked beforehand what exactly they were looking for as far as numbers and statistics were concerned, rather than reprimanding the presenter about limited information after they have put much time and effort into their presentation.

Okay, I am done venting. As for the whole meeting, it was conducted with civility; everyone addressed each other formally, never interrupting, and everything else went very smoothly. I had the pleasure of sitting at the presenter’s table and was recognized for collecting and analyzing the data, and was able to get an up-close-and-personal view of committee procedures and protocols.

Despite going to a university, I have met some really naïve people. People who cannot pronounce “legislature” or do not know how to get to UW’s Red Square are just victims of naiveté. I would be one of them. The only way to cure this is to experience more of what is right at our fingertips. I encourage you to sit in on a committee meeting. It was both educational about government policies and eye opening to glimpse everyday tasks of policy-making.

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