Prop. 54 poses threat to equality

While the California recall vote will get most media attention before the Oct. 7 election, progressive-minded voters are also gearing up to defeat a ballot initiative that will appear on the same ballot – Proposition 54. This is a follow-up measure to Prop. 209, the anti-affirmative action or so-called “civil rights” initiative passed in November 1996, proposed by right-wing University of California Regent Ward Connerly and his so-called American Civil Rights Institute.

Connerly once again used a misnomer to get the necessary signatures to qualify Prop. 54 for the ballot by calling it the “Racial Privacy Initiative.” However, the California attorney general rejected his language and it will now appear as the “Classification by Race, Ethnicity, Color or National Origin Initiative.”

The vast majority of the funding for Prop. 54 has been provided by the ultra-conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee. Prop. 54 would also appear to be another attempt by former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and his right-wing supporters to bring out right-wing voters and thus aid efforts to oust Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. “They’re using Ward Connerly again to pull the vote out to help recall the governor. How dare he come around again,” said Rep. Diane Watson.

The key phrase in the proposed amendment to the state constitution is the first one which reads: “The state shall not classify any individual by race, ethnicity, color or national origin in the operation of public education, public contracting or public employment.” While Prop. 209 prohibited the state government from making decisions based on race, universities, community colleges, public schools and medical institutions all collect racial data for the purposes of research, to target areas for specific services and qualify for federal funding – such as the additional funding provided to public schools whose student populations have large numbers of minority students from low income families.

Law enforcement officials also collect racial data on those who are arrested or ticketed that allows outside groups to keep tabs on whether or not one ethnic group is being singled out for special attention – i.e., instances of racial profiling. Prop. 54 would block such monitoring efforts.

The Coalition for an Informed California says, “The initiative is a radical measure that would damage our ability to address disparities by race or ethnicity in health care and disease patterns, educational resources and academic achievement, and hate crime and discrimination.”

Most civil rights groups view Prop. 54 as another attempt to reverse the gains made by African Americans and other minority groups over the last 40 years. Civil rights attorneys find the law objectionable because they say it would preclude them from having access to an important tool in any legal battles over racial discrimination in housing, employment, and lending and insurance practices. It would also make the enforcement of the state’s hate crime laws virtually impossible.

Among the groups most strongly fighting Prop. 54 are those in the health care field. Over 40 groups, including the Latino Coalition for Healthy California, Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, Public Health Institute and California Medical Association, have publicly come forward in opposition to the passage of Connerly’s attempt to make California allegedly “color-blind.”

The author can be reached at