Chris Petzold, a Highlands-area resident and founder of an Indivisible group working in Washington's 8th Congressional District, asked Lambert the question three times during a conversation about the council's decision to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for county employees. (Liberals on the council introduced the idea shortly after last summer's uprisings, and Lambert said she opposed it because she thought the county should spend the money on other things.)
Here's the audio of the conversation, followed by a transcript of the relevant bits:
Q: My question was more about how you show your support for the African American community in light of this vote.
Kathy Lambert: The way I do that is I work in Africa, too. I have two children I support in Africa. I sponsor a meal program in Africa. I teach school in Africa and help them. I help people in many communities around the world with my own personal money. And I do not discriminate on anybody. The people in my friends circle and in my community are all ethnicities. I represent an area that is Microsoft, and we have people from all over the world here, and that is very special. So the people who know me are not worried that I discriminate.
Lambert (cont'd): You cannot take a vote and say this is the pure reason for this. That is not how government works. You have to figure out what are the priorities, and how can we do it in a way that will respect that people have the option to take Juneteenth off but should the taxpayers during a pandemic spend an extra $6 million for government employees—not everybody—just government employees to have another day off. So many of the Black people wouldn’t get the day off. It would be a lot of mixes of who would get that day off. And I didn’t think that was fair.
Q: I’ll just say I didn’t hear anything about how you support the African American community in your answer, so I’ll just say...
Lambert: Well I would say I support African people all over the world, and I have many people in my community that are African Americans, and they are my friends, and we work together.
As many conservative Republicans do, Lambert apparently took a straightforward question about race as an implicit accusation of racism, and displayed an inability to talk about the issue with any nuance.
Her answer failed to distinguish between Africans and African Americans, and suggested a certain blindness to, say, racial disparities in policing, homeownership, vaccination rates, unemployment rates, park distribution, investment in communities such as Skyway, and other examples of systemic anti-Black racism within King County that she could try to ameliorate with her position of power had she any real desire to do so. Lambert didn't respond when asked to highlight any legislation she has proposed to address any of those issues, so we're left wondering.
In the meantime, it's worth briefly addressing Lambert's larger (and smaller) objections to the county making Juneteenth and Indigenous Peoples’ Day paid holidays starting in 2022 "subject to available funding resources, bargaining, and potential impacts to existing county services."
As she said in the forum, Lambert opposed the idea primarily because "it would add a 24th paid holiday at this point during the pandemic for county employees." I'm not quite sure where she's getting this number, as the county only lists 10 paid holidays on its calendar. And anyway, as I already mentioned, the legislation makes the days off conditional on available funds and bargaining, so it doesn't sound like those days are guaranteed during an economic downturn.
She also argued that "spending $6 million on county employees having more days off and not giving that $6 million to people who were hungry was not a good expenditure" in the context of the pandemic, when food scarcity increased.
The $6 million figure Lambert references represents the estimated cost to the county in productivity loss and in "overtime costs for bus drivers, correctional officers and other employees who will need to continue to work through the holiday," according to the Seattle Times.
In committee meetings, the bill's sponsor, King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, argued that $6 million out of a $12 billion budget seemed like a small price to pay to encourage the employees and residents of Martin Luther King Jr. County to reflect on the meaning of the day, which people celebrate every year to commemorate the moment in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, TX learned of the freedom the state had granted them, and to talk about the work that needs to be done to realize America's stated promise of liberty for all.
People can debate the degree to which paying King County employees money to have the day off or to work overtime on that day helps do that work or ends up taking away county resources from fulfilling other demands, but Lambert's repeated assertion that only county employees would benefit from the day seems myopic. The holiday inspired the state (and its much larger employee base) to take similar action, prompted all residents to reflect on the day, and it could help pressure private employers to offer the day as well.
On top of all that, the truth is we all work too much anyway. Recent studies show you can reduce work hours in the public sector without reducing pay and actually improve productivity and worker well-being. Giving more employees more time off can actually make government run more efficiently, but don't expect an ideologue like Lambert to accept that.
Luckily for the people of District 3, she's up for reelection! And the Stranger Election Control Board knows of a good replacement.