Scarcely more than a week from Election Day, the champions of California’s Proposition 16—a ballot initiative that would repeal the ban on racial preferences in the state constitution—are desperate to push the measure over the top. So they are falling back on a scare tactic: accusations of white supremacy.
One recent ad urging a vote for Prop. 16 says the Yes on 16 campaign is supported by leaders like Sen. Kamala Harris. By contrast, it says, the measure is “opposed by those who have always opposed equality.” In case you miss the point, the ad features men carrying tiki torches at the infamous white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
Some are building on this theme by tying Prop. 209, the original ballot initiative that put the non-discrimination language in the constitution in 1996, to David Duke, a one-time leader in the Ku Klux Klan. It’s true that in September 1996, two months before the vote, Cal State Northridge’s student senate invited Mr. Duke to debate civil-rights activist Joe Hicks on the proposition.
But the College Republicans opposed the invitation as an attempt to smear supporters. As the Los Angeles Times put it, Ward Connerly and others pushing Prop. 209 “characterized the move to bring Duke to campus as a thinly veiled dirty trick.” Not reported is that Hicks, now deceased, later reversed himself and became a staunch critic of preferences.
It was ridiculous to paint Mr. Connerly as in league with the Klan then, and it’s as absurd to think that the Asian-Americans who feature prominently in the fight against Prop. 16 are also agents of white supremacy. They oppose Prop. 16 because they know their children will be its chief victims, especially in education. Look at the lawsuits against Harvard and Yale for the opaque process they use to penalize qualified Asian-American applicants.
Prop. 16’s supporters also claim that racial minorities have been devastated since the state was prohibited from using race as a factor in decisions, especially at California’s public universities. In fact, the number of blacks admitted to the University of California has more than doubled since the year before Prop. 209 went into effect.
The number of Chicano/Latino students admitted has increased nearly five times. Contrary to what Prop. 16 supporters would have you believe, 41% of the 2020 class of admitted freshmen students are black or Chicano/Latino across the University of California system. Chicanos and Latinos represent a plurality at 36%, which is more than the 35% who are Asian-American and the only 21% who are white.
The non-discrimination language in the California constitution has ensured greater academic success for these minority students. As a result of a better match between under-represented minority students and the UC campus they attend, minority performance has increased.
UCLA economist and law professor Richard Sander writes that the four-year graduation rates for blacks and Latinos more than doubled. And 10 years after the first post-209 cohort was admitted, the number of blacks graduating with science, technology, engineering or math degrees had nearly doubled; for Latinos it was up more than 125%.
In September, a Public Policy Institute of California poll reported only 31% of likely voters saying they would vote for Prop. 16, with 47% opposed and 22% undecided. A new PPIC poll released last week shows 50% of voters now saying they will vote no with 37% in support—and 12% undecided. Thus the campaign to scare voters in the final days.
Gail Heriot, a University of San Diego law professor who sits on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and co-chairs the No on 16 campaign, notes that even in deep blue California voters aren’t buying coerced racial preferences. “The Yes on Prop 16 campaign manager told potential donors that, according to the campaign’s internal polling, accusations of white supremacy would be effective,” Ms. Heriot says. “But Californians aren’t that gullible.” Let’s hope she’s right.
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Appeared in the October 26, 2020, print edition.