OLYMPIA — Officially, Mona Das misfired with the facts.
But the first-term Democratic state senator isn’t apologizing for the whopper of a falsehood she launched publicly in June. She meant what she said. She just regrets the words she used to say it.
What happened is she described to business leaders in her hometown of Kent how the true nature of her fellow Democrats emerged behind closed doors for caucus meetings. It was all captured on video.
“That’s when my 28 colleagues got real. And that’s when I heard hate, misogyny and racism and sexism from people you would not expect. That’s the type of light I want to shine,” she said.
“I am going to say it again,” she continued. “The hate, sexism, racism and misogyny I experienced when that caucus room door closed would shock only the white folks in the room because the brown folks know it’s there.”
Upon further review, none of what Das said was true.
Human Resources Officer Tara Parker of the state Senate investigated, spoke with Das and a bunch of other senators, and found “no evidence” that anyone heard racist or sexist language expressed in the caucus room in the 2019 session.
Das, in her interview with Parker, retracted the claim she made at the June 20 Chamber of Commerce event.
“She regretted that the language she used conveyed something quite different from what she had in mind,” Parker wrote.
When the senator spoke of “hearing misogyny and racism and sexism from people you would not expect,” Parker wrote that Das “was referring to ‘a few’ colleagues who were purportedly dismissive and disrespectful when members of color raised concerns that specific legislation could disproportionately impact communities of color. She declined to name the members she was referring to.”
Some of her Democratic colleagues are treating it as a teaching moment.
“We had a couple of really in-depth conversations,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood. “It was a positive exchange of what she meant, where her heart was and how we think we can go from here.”
They spoke about her concerns with how elements of the structure and process of the Senate perpetuated bias against members of color. And they spoke of her objections to some of the language used in caucus conversations and floor debates.
With that context, Liias said he didn’t think Das made up the allegations.
“I think she was imprecise and could have been more articulate,” he said. “I think this is a learning moment for her.”
Republican senators think one lesson of this experience should also be that there are consequences to making false accusations against other senators.
Requiring a public apology, issuing a written reprimand or advancing a motion for a formal censure are options Republicans want considered by the Facilities and Operations Committee. This bipartisan panel enforces the chamber’s code of conduct policies.
“Those charges were found to be false. Our duty is to decide what should happen because of that,” Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, wrote in a Sept. 12 letter to the committee’s chairman, Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip. Becker serves on the panel.
Becker also expressed concern that the report dwelt so much on the institution itself.
“Although it has been determined that Sen. Das’ statements were untruthful, some have tried to transform a case of false accusation into a discussion of ‘institutional racism.’ Sen. Das did not tell the truth. That is not institutional racism,” Becker wrote.
The matter is expected to be discussed at the next committee meeting, likely in November.
An apology is unlikely any time soon.
Das didn’t take that path when the report came out Sept. 9. In a statement, she made no mention of its findings toward her.
“Institutional racism affects the lives of people throughout our state through policies, laws and the actions of others,” she said then. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to address institutional racism in our government and throughout Washington.”
They’ll be looking to see if in the future she hits that target with more accuracy.