Californians to vote on racial, gender preference programs
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A California with vastly different political preferences and demographics is voting on whether to allow affirmative action in public hiring, contracting and college admissions — nearly a quarter century after voters outlawed programs that give preference based on race and gender.
If approved, Proposition 16 would repeal a 1996 initiative that made it unlawful for California’s state and local governments to discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to people based on race, ethnicity, national origin or sex. Then-Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, championed the measure as part of his conservative bid for the presidency.
The California of 2020 is less Republican and more diverse than it was 24 years ago, with Latinos making up 39% of the population in a state where no group holds a majority.
Still, the repeal might not have made the ballot if not for the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd while handcuffed by police in Minneapolis. Voters’ decision will test support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat and chairwoman of the California Legislative Black Caucus, is the lead author of the legislation that put the question to voters, which required two-thirds support in both houses of the state Legislature.
“I think the death of George Floyd made racism very real for people; they could see it. And now what I was asking them to do was to act on it, stop telling me how horrible it is, stop telling me that you really didn’t know that, stop telling me that this is such a revelation for you,” Weber said.
She added: “Now the question becomes, what are you going to do about it?”
Early voting begins Monday for the Nov. 3 election.
The U.S. Supreme Court has long outlawed racial quotas, but it has ruled that universities may use tailored programs to promote diversity.
Last year, a federal judge in Boston rejected claims that Harvard’s admissions policies discriminated against Asian American applicants to keep their numbers artificially low. The plaintiff, the Students for Fair Admissions group, is appealing.
Supporters of Proposition 16 include U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, the Democratic nominee for U.S. vice president, Black Lives Matter movement co-founders, professional sports teams and politically liberal groups of all types. They argue that some programs are needed to help level a systemically racist playing field. The campaign has raised $14 million, far more than the $1 million raised by opponents.
Opponents include Ward Connerly, an African American businessman and former University of California regent who pushed for the 1996 ban.
They say government should never discriminate by race or gender, and the only way to stop discrimination is to end it. Joining Connerly are more recent Chinese immigrants who say the United States shouldn’t play favorites based on skin color.
In 2014, activists scuttled an attempt to restore racial preferences in higher education and successfully voted out some Asian American legislators they called traitors to their race.
Assemblyman Evan Low, who is Chinese American, voted in June to put the issue before voters despite emails and phone calls running 37-to-1 against it. He rebuked proponents for failing to reach out to him and the broader Asian American community at a time when all minorities have reason to feel under attack.