There is no contradiction between valuing diversity, wanting to correct systemic injustices against minorities and upholding the core principle of equality. Most California voters understood this and soundly defeated the fundamentally flawed Proposition 16.
In the aftermath of the tragic killing of George Floyd, the California Legislature decided the time was right for voters to consider overturning Proposition 209.
Approved by 54.55 percent of voters in 1996, Prop. 209 placed the following words in the state constitution: “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.”
More than two decades later, California’s public universities boast remarkably diverse public universities, with majority female enrollment and robust representation of underrepresented minorities. Year after year, California’s civil service has increasingly grown to reflect the diversity of the state. And California’s public contracting has properly remained focused on delivering cost-effective services.
Yet, according to many of the lawmakers who voted to place the matter before voters, it was necessary to allow California government to engage in preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in order to correct systemic injustices. They claimed that, because California’s demographics changed considerably, voters might think differently about Prop. 209
Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office even ensured that Prop. 209 was granted a favorable, and misleading, ballot title saying Prop. 16 would merely “Allow Diversity as a Factor in Public Employment, Education, and Contracting Decisions.”
Contrary to the assumptions of the increasingly out-of-touch Sacramento establishment, Californians aren’t persuaded that allowing government to engage in racial or sex preferences is the appropriate response to the real problems facing underprivileged and disadvantaged communities and individuals.
As of this writing, 56.6 percent of Californians voted to reject Prop. 16. In state where nearly two-thirds of voters backed Democratic candidate Joe Biden, it’s clear many moderate and left-leaning voters recognized the folly of letting the state engage in racial and sex preferences.
The defeat of Prop. 16 certainly does not mean Californians don’t care about improving prospects for disadvantaged communities. But the result should prompt policymakers to shift their focus away toward more practical considerations and approaches that will improve things for all Californians.
Policymakers should confront the sad and sorry state of the public K-12 system, which has long yielded terrible outcomes for poor and minority students. California should pursue policies that will improve economic prospects for all Californians, which includes a focus on making housing more affordable and making it easier, not harder, to do business in the state. And of course, California should make sure policing and the criminal justice system operate in a manner that is fair and just to all communities.
All of that is achievable without overturning Prop. 209.