Timeline of Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos’ Abuse of Power and Diverting Proviso Funds to Finance Research That Served Her Political Agenda

In 2022, the Washington legislature approved a $25,000 proviso to the OSPI solely for the development and distribution of promotional and educational materials for Americans of Chinese descent history month. Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, who is the Chair of the House Education Committee, used her power and influence to award the OSPI proviso contract to her past campaign donor, Teaching Professor Connie So of the UW Department of American Ethnic Studies. In return, Professor So diverted the proviso funds to finance research that assisted in advancing Rep. Santos’s agenda to sabotage Americans of Chinese Descent History Month. Professor So and Rep. Santos claim that based on the research, “Americans of Chinese descent” is the wrong term to use when the proviso is intended for ‘Americans of Chinese descent” history. Rep. Santos falsely claimed that Professor So’s recommendation was “requested by the Legislature”. She later attempted to revise the 2022 proviso language in the 2023 Supplemental Bill in order to cover up their lies and wrongdoings. Below is a detailed timeline of the events.

2022 – A $25,000 proviso to the OSPI “solely for the office to create and distribute promotional and educational materials to school districts for Americans of Chinese descent history month” was written in the 2022 Supplementary Budget. Despite the legislature’s failure to establish the Americans of Chinese descent history month that year, the proviso passed;

May 17, 2022 – Senator Keith Wagoner and Senator Christine Rolfes sent a letter to OSPI to clarify how the funding should be used. In the letter, the two senators state: “The budget proviso was included to provide OSPI the tools needed to provide educational and promotional materials, e.g., posters or flyers celebrating the unique history and contributions of these Americans”, and “…emphasize the fact that these materials specifically state Americans of Chinese Descent and not Chinese-Americans.”;

September 29, 2022 – CAPAA Executive Director, Toshiko Hasegawa, forwarded OSPI’s email on Americans of Chinese Descent History Month Resources Creation to Rep. Santos;

October 5, 2022 – OSPI started its RFP process for the Americans of Chinese Descent History Materials and Resource Contract;

October 18, 2022 – OSPI switched the Americans of Chinese Descent Contract “from an RFP to a Sole Source Contract” and give the contract to UW; (We are still investigating the reason behind the switch.)

October 21, 2022 – Rep. Sharon Santos sent an email to Jenny Plaja, Executive Director of Government Relations at OSPI, and Mia Tuan, Dean of the UW College of Education, on the Americans of Chinese Descent Contract. In her email, Rep. Santos indicated that she had discussed this contract with each of them prior to sending it out, and lauded her long term partnership with Plaja. She ended her email by saying, “Thank you, both, for your understanding and engagement on this important if thorny matter.” ;

November 9, 2022 – The dean of the UW College of Education, Mia Tuan, sent out an email and stated, “I spoke with Rep. Tomiko Santos today to make sure I understood her wishes. Based on that conversation, here’s what my Assistant Dean for Finance (Santhi) and I suggest: -it doesn’t make sense to involve the College of Education in this transaction. Santhi will follow up with Jenny to introduce her to Santhi’s counterpart in the college of Arts & Sciences (the academic home for Asian American Studies). This is a cleaner and simpler process than having funds pass through our college.” In other words, Rep. Santos’ wishes were to give the contract to Asian American Studies, where Professor Connie So teaches;

November 10, 2022 – Not knowing that their counterpart at the UW has changed from the College of Education to the College of Arts and Sciences, OSPI told WA Asians For Equality in an email, “we are contracting with the University of Washington’s College of Education to create the materials and OSPI will be in char[g]e of distributing them.”; 

Between November and December, 2022 – OSPI was working on the contract language that they thought was between the UW College of Education and followed up with the UW College of Education on the contract multiple times;

December 2, 2022 – In a meeting with Speaker Jinkins and members of WA Asians For Equality, Rep. Santos said, “The contract language [for the proviso] has been sent to the University of Washington, where we are engaging with the Asian American Studies program at the University of Washington to help conduct some research on the appropriate month for recognizing Americans of Chinese descent heritage.” At the same meeting, Rep. Santos admitted that Professor Connie So was her scholar on this subject at UW;

December 22, 2022 – In response to OSPI’s follow up email on the contract, Santhi Perumal, the Assistant Dean of the UW College of Education, said, “There has been some change of plans and so I am introducing my colleague over at the College of Arts and Science, Linda Nelson (copied on the email), who will be taking over this.” Linda Nelson, the Associate Dean of the UW College of Arts and Sciences, emailed OSPI: “I understand that the work outlined in this contract will be completed by Professor Connie So who is a member of the Department of American Ethnic Studies within the College of Arts & Sciences.“;

January 11, 2023 – Associate Dean Nelson, sent Professor So an email with the subject line “FW: Americans of Chinese Descent Contract Intake for OSPI”, and stated, “My contacts from OSPI are asking about the status of our contract review?” According to the Purpose of the Agreement section, the contract is “for the successful implementation and operation of a collection of materials and resources about the history of Americans of Chinese descent.“;

January 14, 2023 –  Professor So sent an email to four people who she later hired as consultants for her research project and said, “To make sure that an ‘appropriate’ month is chosen, OSPI has given the department of American Ethnic Studies some funds to find researchers to determine what month would work best. Since the money is going to AES, of course I will be one of the researchers because of the obvious conflict of interest. But I am hoping that the four of you, all with tremendous Chinese American historical credibility, might come up with at least 1-2 months that make sense. OSPI, through AES, will pay you (or a group that you designate) money for the research. ” In the same email, she also revealed Rep. Santos’ association with her research, stating, “Sharon Tomiko Santos is sponsoring a bill to create a Chinese American History/Heritage Month…. The deadline for this bill’s passage is February, so we should try to find a month by the end of January.”

January 15, 2023 – Professor So sent another email to the four consultants and stated, “I think the amount of research money I can distribute will be around $1000-$3000. I will know more this coming week.”;

January 18, 2023 – Professor So told her consultants in an email, “My meeting with UW budgeting and OSPI is next Tuesday”,  which was January 24, 2023;

January 23, 2023 – In an email to the OSPI, Associate Dean Nelson stated, “I’m meeting with Professor So on tomorrow”, which was January 24, 2023;

January 31, 2023 – Prof. Connie So sent her “Recommendations for Chinese American Month” to Rep. Santos and other recipients, but no one from OSPI was included in the report’s distribution list, despite her claim that the research was commissioned by OSPI. In the background section of her recommendation, she states: “On January 11, 2023, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) asked Dr. Connie So, teaching professor at the University of Washington’s American Ethnic Studies Department, to evaluate whether January is the best month to honor ‘Americans of Chinese Descent’ –the title of the original bill. … Dr. So created a survey to obtain additional perspectives on the title of the month, and whether January or another month would be the best choice to honor ‘Americans of Chinese Descent’/’Chinese Americans'”;

March 21, 2023 – Professor So told the panel of House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee members that “In January, OSPI has commissioned me to assess the appropriate month to honor Chinese Americans, yes, Chinese Americans, not just Americans of Chinese descent”. So claimed that “Americans of Chinese descent” is the wrong term to use;

March 21, 2023 – The contract between OSPI and the UW College of Arts and Sciences was signed;

March 21, 2023 – Rep. Santos sent Rep. Ramos an email, in which, she claimed that “OSPI contracted with Dr. Connie So at the University of Washington to fulfill the provisions of the proviso. Hence, the recommendations appended hereto were requested by the Legislature.

March 22 to March 28, 2023 – Rep. Santos applied pressure to the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee to strike out the entire language of SB 5000, Americans of Chinese Descent History Month, and replace it with language from her own bill, HB 1759. HB 1759 consists of two parts: the first part is the intend section, which is about the history of people of Chinese descent in Washington. It is a nice addition, but it won’t be included in the state law and won’t have any practical impact on establishing the month in Washington. The second part is what actually goes into the state law, RCW 43.117. The only practical difference between SB 5000 and HB 1759 is that in SB 5000, the month is referred to as “Americans of Chinese Descent History Month,” while in HB 1759, the month is called “Chinese American Month”. Passing the bill without amending SB 5000 with Rep. Santos’ bill language would avoid the need to send the bill back to the Senate for concurrence and ensure the establishment of a commemorative month this year;

March 26, 2023 – Rep. Santos admitted the proviso money was used to fund Professor So’s research: “I have confirmed with Dr. Connie So that she will be available tomorrow morning before 8:00 a.m. to discuss with you the position of the historians of Chinese American history with respect to the naming of the month to recognize the contributions of Chinese Americans to the state of Washington and to the United States of America. She will be reaching out to the other historians who provided the research and recommendations requested by the 2022 legislative budget proviso to OSPI, as well as to other Chinese American community leaders.”;

March 28, 2023 – In order to advance SB 5000 out of the committee, the bill’s prime sponsor, Senator Wagoner, and the bill’s supporters agreed to a striking amendment to SB 5000 that recognizes both names, “Chinese American History Month” and “Americans of Chinese Descent History Month”;

March 31, 2023 – In their email to WA Asians For Equality, OSPI denied any association or involvement with Professor So’s project, stating that “OSPI has no record of a contract with Professor Connie So” and “OSPI did not contract Dr. So to produce any survey about finding the appropriate month for Americans of Chinese Descent History Month. Therefore, we have no knowledge of the creation of the survey, funding, or payment breakdowns.”;

April 3, 2023 – The House passed ESSB 5187, the 2023-2025 state operation budget. In it, it states, “$25,000 of the general fund—state appropriation for fiscal year 2023 is provided solely for the office to create and distribute promotional and educational materials to school districts for Americans of Chinese descent history month.”

April 3, 2023 – UW Office of State Relations contacted Professor Connie So and asked for clarification about what she was “contracted by OSPI to study”, and Connie deferred the answer to Rep. Santos, saying “I’m going to ask Rep. Santos, my state representative, to send it to you. I want to go through the regular channels.”;

April 6, 2023 – Amended SB 5000 was voted on by the entire House. Despite all the compromises made to accommodate her request, including adopting the entire intent section of her HB 1759 word for word and adding the term “Chinese Americans” to the RCW 43.117 section, Rep. Santos voted “Nay” on the amended SB 5000;

April 13, 2023 – Senate concurred in the amended SB 5000. WA legislature passed January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month.

April 16, 2023 – House attempted to revise the 2022 proviso language. The attempted revision reads, “$25,000 of the general fund-state appropriation for fiscal year 2023 is provided solely for the office to contract with the college of arts and sciences at the university of Washington to provide educational research about the contributions of Chinese Americans to Washington state and to make recommendations about a preferred month in which to recognize these contributions.” The WA legislature already passed January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month on April 13. Other than trying to cover up their wrongdoings after fact, this House revision makes no sense and is not needed.

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