ONLY AT THIS PARTICULAR POLITICAL MOMENT IN the 37th District would a proposal to increase funding for loans to minority- and woman-owned small businesses be called "a diabolical plan." That comes from J.J. Jones of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), whose testimony helped kill the bill in the Olympia.

The Link Deposit program, passed in 1993, provided loans to minority- and woman-owned businesses. It ran out of cash this year, and contained a provision barring its renewal until the year 2000. So 37th District Senator Adam Kline proposed a Link Deposit II, which would allot more money for loans. Unlike Link Deposit I, Kline's bill stipulated that 75 percent of the money go to small businesses owned by women and minorities. That's one change that Jones called "a rape of Link Deposit."

Kline said he wanted to encourage economic development "at the grassroots level" and help companies "whose profits stay in the community." He points out that a woman-owned Pepsi bottling company in Tacoma benefited from loans under the original program. "Businesses with that much capital can go to a bank and get a loan," Kline said. "I want the money to go to smaller, struggling companies."

Jones said Link Deposit was created to correct lending bias and discrimination--not to help small businesses. "I work in construction," said Jones. "If I need a loan, it might be a million dollars. His bill only allows $300,000. We need a separate instrument to deal with small businesses."

According to Kline, NBCC's attacks on his bill are motivated by leftover anger from his bitter re-election campaign against challenger Dawn Mason in 1998. He points out that Eddie Rye, NBCC's president, is "a personal friend and political ally of Dawn Mason," and said, "Eddie is playing politics with something that is very important to the community. He's shooting himself in the foot just because he doesn't like the idea of a white guy doing this legislation." Kline said he had a majority for the bill until Rye and other NBCC members testified. "After that, people said there must be something wrong with it if the beneficiaries don't like it."

Kline accuses the NBCC of bringing down his bill to settle a score, pointing to other African Americans in his district who supported it.

Jim Thomas of Community Capital Development thought it was a good idea, and so did George Staggers, who runs the Central Area Development Association. "Rye had some valid comments," said Staggers. "However, I think we need to work with Senator Kline to make the bill better, not kill it first. I don't think that many people are aware of the impact of not continuing the Link Deposit."

But Kline's portrayal of Rye's criticisms as a grudge match over the '98 election doesn't tell the whole story.

Donna Lawrence, the public affairs coordinator for the State Treasurer, who has administered the Link Deposit program for two years, opposed Kline's bill. "The program was set up to serve specific people and Kline shifted the goal and the money," said Lawrence. "When you change the rules you make the bill pointless."

Jones and Rye talk of "subterfuge," "clandestine meetings," and "midnight changes" to the bill. They group this legislation with Kline's failed gang abatement bill, as policy that ignores the concerns of his black constituents.

Kline insists that Rye never returned his phone calls or responded to repeated attempts to have a conversation about the bill before testifying at the hearing. Rye, according to Kline, "spreads a campaign of misinformation that only hurts the community."

Charlie James, publisher of the African American Business Journal, thinks both men have good intentions. "Eddie and Adam need to get to know each other better. All the distrust black people have of white politicians is put on Adam. Eddie doesn't hear what he says, [and] Adam has a very aggressive, stubborn personality. He needs to chill out and be less defensive, and float his ideas with people in the community before putting them out there."

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