As millions protest systemic racism, Californians could soon have chance to restore affirmative action
The Black Lives Matter movement, galvanized by the police killing of George Floyd, is propelling the once volatile issue of affirmative action onto the November ballot. California voters will likely again be asked, as they were a generation ago, to answer this question: Is affirmative action necessary to attack racial and gender discrimination — or is it itself discriminatory?
The legislation, ACA 5, would repeal Proposition 209, a citizens’ initiative that was approved by a comfortable 9-percentage-point margin after a bitterly fought campaign in 1996.
This was the text of Proposition 209:
“The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the base of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”
But that was 24 years ago. Proposition 209 opponents see a window this year to restore affirmative action in public university admissions, hiring and contracting.
ACA 5 is “going to be awfully tough to beat,” says Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), an outspoken supporter, referring not only to its prospects in the Legislature but on the ballot. Gonzalez, chairwoman of the Legislative Latino Caucus, recently tweeted this strong message to other lawmakers: “I don’t want to see a single one of my fellow legislators post about #blacklivesmatter but not vote on #ACA5…. Black lives matter in government contracting and college admissions, too.”
Both legislative leaders — Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) — are pushing the proposal.
“I absolutely support giving California voters the opportunity to right this historical wrong,” Atkins emailed me.
The Assembly overwhelmingly passed the measure Wednesday, 60-14, and sent it to the Senate. Representatives of the Black, Latino, women’s, Jewish and LGBTQ caucuses all advocated its passage, denouncing Proposition 209. Weber contended Proposition 209 has “deprived women and people of color of a level playing field” and fostered racial inequality.
Like some other Asian Americans, Assemblyman Steven Choi (R-Irvine) supports 209 and opposes ACA 5.
“Is it right to earn a job just because you’re white or Black or yellow?” Choi asked during the Assembly debate. “We’re talking about legalizing racism and sexism… I came to this country to get away from reasoning like that.”
The chief defender of 209 is retired Sacramento land use consultant Ward Connerly, who is Black. He orchestrated its passage in 1996.
“When you treat people differently based on their race, that’s a racial preference,” Connerly says.
This very likely will be a hot item on the November ballot. Let’s hope it doesn’t stir up ugly politics this time.