One of the most disturbing political ads airing across the state this election season is a television ad urging a “yes” vote on Prop. 16, the ballot initiative that asks voters to overturn Prop. 209, the landmark California law that ended racial preferences in university admissions, government employment and contracting. One scene in the ad shows a night-time procession of young white men carrying torches. The voiceover in the scene states that the people against Prop. 16 are “those who have always opposed equality.” There’s no need to elaborate — the implications are shockingly clear.
But the stark fact is that those who are leading the opposition on Prop. 16 are minorities. African American Ward Connerly, former member of the University of California Board of Regents and whose leadership led to the passage of Prop. 209, heads the coalition group Californians for Equal Rights, which includes well over a dozen Asian American groups. This coalition includes Washington Asians for Equality, the group that led the successful fight against a measure that would have brought back affirmative action to Washington State. Another member of the coalition is Students for Fair Admission, the group of Asian students who brought the lawsuit against Harvard’s admissions policies.
The Prop. 16 ad claims that it will “level the playing field for all of us.” In fact, it will actually tilt the playing field to favor groups that are “under-represented” when compared to the state’s racial composition. Sure to be on the losing side will be Asian Americans who are “over-represented” at California’s public universities under the current system of merit established by Prop. 209.
The real problem African American and Hispanic students are contending with is the poor quality of education they are receiving in our public schools – especially those students living in poor and urban communities. As PRI’s Senior Director of Education Lance Izumi points out: “research shows that K-12 public education, not Prop. 209, is the real obstacle for underrepresented minorities entering higher education . . . . the answer is to allow more school choice options to rescue these kids from failing public schools and switch to either homeschooling or a charter, private, or religious school that will better prepare them for college.”
More than $12 million has been raised by Prop. 16 supporters, which includes Steve Balmer, former CEO of Microsoft, and the powerful California Teachers Association. Compare this to the $950,000 raised by the Coalition for Equal Rights largely coming from hard-working families who want to protect equal opportunity in admissions to California’s universities. If there was “truth in advertising”, the Prop. 16 ad ought to show the real opposition: Working- and middle class families.
The most recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found that 47 percent of likely California voters surveyed said they would oppose Prop. 16, while 31 percent said they would vote for it. By now voters are used to exaggerations and spin when it comes to political ads, and Californians should see right through this one.
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.