Equity & Diversity

Calif. Initiative to Halt Racial-Data Collection Eclipsed by the Recall

By Joetta L. Sack — September 03, 2003 4 min read
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California voters will not only have the chance to choose a new governor next month, but will also be faced with a decision on data collection by race.

Overshadowed by the nationally watched election on recalling Gov. Gray Davis and choosing his prospective successor, a voter initiative also on the Oct. 7 ballot aims to bar California’s state and local governments—including public schools—from collecting data on the race and ethnicity of students and employees.

Proposition 54 is backed by Ward Connerly, the University of California regent who led the successful 1996 campaign to pass Proposition 229, which effectively ended California’s affirmative action programs.

In the politicking over the recall, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the only prominent Democrat in the race to succeed the Democratic incumbent, picked up an important endorsement last month from the California Teachers Association, the state’s most powerful education group.

Opposing Proposition 54

The CTA opposes the recall of Gov. Davis and says that the estimated $70 million cost of the recall election would be better spent on the education system. (“Calif. School Groups Line Up Against Davis Recall,” Aug. 6, 2003.)

But the CTA’s board of directors chose to endorse Mr. Bustamante as a fallback candidate on Aug. 21 because of his record on education and his support for many of the CTA’s positions, union leaders said.

“CTA remains strongly opposed to the Oct. 7 recall of a democratically elected governor,” CTA President Barbara E. Kerr said in a statement. “But if the recall passes, teachers want to know which candidate has the best plan to protect public education. We know that Lt. Gov. Bustamante has a long history of supporting students, teachers, and public schools.”

Earlier last month, there was some speculation that the CTA, a National Education Association affiliate, might endorse Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is seen as the leading Republican in the crowded field of would-be governors. The union worked with the actor last year on a successful ballot initiative on after-school services.

Mr. Schwarzenegger said in a speech last month that he would not raise taxes if elected, but he vowed to protect education, which makes up nearly half the state budget.

In a public appearance last week, Mr. Schwarzenegger said he opposes school vouchers. He also indicated that he believes in school prayer, but that decisions about how to handle it should be left to the schools.

Proposition 54 had originally been slated for the March 2004 ballot, but it was moved up under state law once the October election was set. Voters in two counties, however, have filed a federal lawsuit asking that the initiative be moved back to the March primary.

The initiative would amend the state constitution to prohibit the use of race, ethnicity, or national origin when collecting data on current or prospective students, employees, and contractors in public education and other government operations. Initiative advocates argue that the prohibition would help the state save millions of dollars and would end what they see as unfair preferential treatment based on race.

However, the initiative does not prohibit collection of data by gender.

The CTA is opposing Proposition 54 because, the union says, the measure would hinder the state’s distribution of resources to high-need schools and would make accountability efforts harder to implement. Other groups have said the initiative would hinder efforts to provide local health services and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.

Tracking the Candidates

Public-opinion polling on the recall, meanwhile, suggests the political situation is unpredictable.

The nonpartisan Field Poll showed that in mid-August, 58 percent of 448 likely voters would choose to recall Gov. Davis, up from 51 percent a month earlier. Thirty-seven percent opposed the recall, with 5 percent undecided. The poll’s margin of error was 5 percentage points.

A poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times and released Aug. 24 found that 50 percent of 801 likely voters said that the governor should be removed, and that 45 percent were against the recall. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.

That poll also found that 35 percent of likely voters favored Mr. Bustamante as a replacement for governor, with 22 percent saying they would choose Mr. Schwarzenegger. Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock was third, at 12 percent. However, a recent poll conducted by an ABC television affiliate in Los Angeles found Mr. Schwarzenegger ahead of Mr. Bustamante, 45 percent to 29 percent. That poll questioned 591 voters who said they were “certain” they would vote in the election.

Republican Bill Simon, Gov. Davis’ opponent in last year’s election, has withdrawn from the current race.

Assistant Editor Linda Jacobson contributed to this report.

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