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Taking Stock in 2006
Prop 209 at 10...

[Sally C. Pipes] 1/19/06

Ballot initiatives have been getting shot down like skeet lately in California, but that hasn't always been the case. This year marks the tenth anniversary of one that passed handily but needs to be revisited.

In November 1996, California voters passed Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI). The measure states: "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting."


Sally C. Pipes
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

Sally C. Pipes is President and CEO, Pacific Research Institute [go to Pipes index]

This simple, reasonable, language derives from the civil-rights struggles of the 1960s. But it sparked a furious reaction from the politically correct, particularly militant feminists, who saw Proposition 209 as a threat to "women and minorities." Never mind that, together, those groups constitute a majority, and that the measure did not threaten them.

It did constitute a threat to politicians and administrators who used state power to discriminate against groups they saw as "overrepresented" on behalf of accredited victim groups they saw as "underrepresented." The assumption, as we have often noted in this column, is that every institution must reflect the ethnic proportions of society. It is an impossible idea not found in the Constitution, and certainly not followed at any U.S. Post Office.

Before Proposition 209, the primary offender in racial and gender preferences was the University of California, which passed its own anti-discrimination measure. At one of the hearings, at which I testified, there was a bomb scare, and a procession of speakers warned of disaster if the anti-quota measure were to pass (which it did, along with Proposition 209). California voters, including "women and minorities," approved it by a solid 54-46 margin.

There has been no reversion to segregation, as opponents predicted. UC campuses still reflect "diversity." Women and minorities, it turns out, do not need special preferences to get into Berkeley or UCLA. One would never gather that from new UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who hails from my native land, Canada, where the government classifies some groups as "visible minorities."

Mr. Birgeneau is on record that "inclusion is greatly threatened" in the UC system, and feels a moral obligation to address it. That likely means he is disturbed that Proposition 209 prevents him from implementing the quota system he wants. Instead of racially profiling the campus, he should check the finances. The University of California has been hiking student fees even as it distributes $871 million in raises and benefits to administrators. Fabian Nunez, Speaker of the Assembly, wants an investigation.

It has also recently emerged, from a federal study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, that only 31 percent of college graduates, down from 40 percent in 1992, can read a complicated book and extrapolate from it. The study also showed that only 41 percent of graduate students, down from 51 percent in 1992, could be classified as proficient in reading short texts such as prescription labels.

Perhaps the vaunted University of California needs to perform better at basic tasks and stop trying to skirt Proposition 209. State officials, for their part, need to do a better job of enforcing that measure. The best performer has been Janice Rogers Brown, the African-American state Supreme Court justice who in 2000 used Proposition 209 to strike down a government program in San Jose based on race and gender preferences.

In 2006, California doesn't need another ballot initiative to eliminate government discrimination. We need to enforce the measure we already have, and the tenth anniversary of Proposition 209 is a good time to find out how many discriminatory programs still exist, and to what degree inclusion is threatened. Any assessment should take note of one significant reality.

Since 2001, there has been no majority ethnic group in this state, as even Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante recognized. We're all Californians now, more reason why the state should not discriminate against, nor give preference to, any Californian on the basis of race or gender. CRO

Sally C. Pipes is President and CEO, Pacific Research Institute




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