Something unprecedented happened recently in Sacramento. National news organizations covered it, and pundits weighed in. The consensus is that the impact of this event could change the course of electoral politics in California. No, I’m not talking about the criminal and corrupt Democrat state Sen. Leland Yee and his gun running.
Instead, I’m talking about the passage, and then the suspension, of Senate Constitutional Amendment 5. SCA-5 is the brainchild of Democrat state Sen. Ed Hernandez, which, if confirmed by voters, would overturn the education portions of Proposition 209, passed in 1996.
Proposition 209 made it illegal for the state, local governments, districts, public universities, colleges, schools and other government institutions to discriminate against or give preferential treatment to any individual or group in public employment, public education or public contracting based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.
The California Senate debated all of 20 minutes before passing the bill with the Democrat two-thirds super-majority voting in favor on a party-line vote. The measure was expected to sail through the super-majority in the Assembly as well.
Then the inconceivable happened. Voters began to pay attention, and they didn’t like what they saw.
Racial politics is a tricky thing. In a state where the plurality of residents are Latino, what are perceived as victimized minority groups elsewhere can be perceived as the powerful and privileged here.
When they learned more about SCA-5, California’s Asians began to see it for what it was — an attack on them and their rise by a numerically superior and powerful coalition of other minority groups.
Implementation of Proposition 209 brought a stricter meritocracy to admissions in both the UC and CSU systems. The result has been a reduction in the percentage of black and Latino students relative to their high school graduation numbers. However, at the same time, those who do attend a UC or CSU are better prepared and their graduation rates prove it. Recent scholarship shows that black and Latino graduation rates improved post-Proposition 209 and that on-time college degree attainment rates have improved slightly as well.
Concurrent with the change in Latino and black enrollment under Proposition 209 has been an increase in Asians in the UC and CSU systems. Hard work and awards based on merit are seen as Asian cultural values and, by focusing on the hard work and persistence needed to excel academically, Asians have gained a prominent place on California’s campuses. City Journal notes that without past discrimination holding them back, Asians have grown to 52 percent of students at UC Irvine, 50 percent at UC San Diego, 43 percent at UC Berkeley, and 40 percent at UCLA. Overall, 30 percent of UC students are Asian, while the state’s population is barely 14 percent Asian.
Asians can see the future. Any artificial increase in the numbers of Latino or black students will simply mean a reduction in Asian students and a cap on their numbers. With SCA-5, legal discrimination would be a two-way street.
Politicians are now making the defeat of SCA-5 a centerpiece of their campaigns. Peter Kuo, running for state Senate in a 40 percent Asian district in the East Bay, said that determining admission to higher education should rest on individual merit and that the goal of SCA-5 is to eliminate “the founding principle of our country, work hard and you shall achieve.” Since focusing on this issue, donations to his campaign have substantially increased.
This view that SCA-5 is fundamentally flawed has gained traction in Sacramento and three Asian Democrat state senators who voted for SCA-5 asked that the bill be delayed in the Assembly. Speaker John Perez listened and pulled the bill (but did not kill it). Now Democratic factions are at a standoff, with state Sen. Ricardo Lara, chair of the Latino caucus saying that he is “committed to put something on the ballot in 2016.”
Asian voters spoke and forced Speaker Perez to do the unprecedented — suspend a bill that passed the Senate with a two-thirds vote, even though his party has a two-thirds majority in the Assembly as well. Nevertheless, if progressive-liberal politicians force a similar bill through the Legislature, Asian voters might speed their migration to the Republican Party. And that could start to change the course of electoral politics in California.
John McDowell is a longtime county resident having first moved to San Carlos in 1963. In the intervening years, he has worked as a political volunteer and staff member in local, state and federal government, including time spent as a press secretary on Capitol Hill and in the George W. Bush administration.