|Implemented in this survey?|
October 7, 2003 a ballot proposition that would have amended the states constitution to prohibit the collection of racial information by the state was soundly defeated. The health lobby, which effectively campaigned against the initiative on the grounds that racial and ethnic information is necessary to for targeted public health programs, was credited with the successful defete of the measure.
On October 7th, 2003, California voters garnered the nation's attention not only because they took Governor Gray Davis out of office but also because they defeated a highly contentious and publicly debated ballot proposition on race: Proposition 54. While not a public policy initiative, per se, Proposition 54 merits inclusion as a case study since its defeat was due almost entirely to opposition organized by public health advocates and the medical community.
Legislation by proposition in California is a relatively unique feature of state politics within the United States. The process allows California voters to by-pass the State's Assembly (e.g. the legislative branch) and to pass into law proposals appearing on the state ballot that capture the majority vote. To appear on the ballot requires nearly 600,000 signatures among registered voters in the State.
Proposition 54, a proposed constitutional amendment, would have prohibited state and local governments from "classifying any person by race, ethnicity, color, or national origin," according to the official summary from CalVoter.
The margin of defeat was sizeable: 64% of Californians voted against Proposition 54. While the defeat of the proposition was not a surprise, with pre-election polls showing a probable defeat, the issue continued to attract media attention both before and after October 7th.
If Proposition 54 had passed California would have been the first state to stop collecting race data, except when required by the federal government. (Many federal programs require race information and Proposition 54 would not have stopped the collection of that information; however, it was unclear whether the proposition would have allowed this federal data to be sorted and used for other purposes within California.)
State analysts believed that the implementation and the fiscal effects of the initiative would have been minimal. However, The Los Angeles Times wrote that according to Los Angeles County officials the county would have had to retrain up to 35,000 employees and modify computer systems and forms at an estimated cost of $6-$8 million.
|Medienpräsenz||sehr gering||sehr hoch|
Origin of Idea
Proposition 54 was conceived of and championed by Ward Connerly, a businessman and University of California Regent (i.e. Board Member). Connerly has been a long-time sponsor of campaigns against affirmative action policies and was behind Proposition 209 a successful 1996 initiative that banned the state from using race information in hiring and university admissions. Connerly, whose own background is multiracial and multiethnic, is the head of the American Civil Rights Coalition a Sacramento-based organization that coordinated the Proposition 54 campaign.
Connerly had wanted the initiative to be on the March 2004 ballot and believes that the short time frame was partly responsible for the defeat. The Los Angeles Times quotes him saying, "It's very tough when you've got an 80-day campaign coming five months sooner than you expected, especially if you're running a grass-roots campaign. You have to be on TV all the time, and we didn't have the money to do that."
It is interesting to note that one of Connerly's co-authors on Proposition 209 was against Proposition 54 because it would make it hard to tell whether the University of California was adhering to Proposition 209, the ban on racial preferences.
The Players For and Against
The proponents of Proposition 54 saw it as a step towards a "race-blind government". The opponents saw it as a vaguely worded proposition that could hurt the state's ability to address racial disparities in important areas such as public health, education, crime prevention and civil rights enforcement. According to the Los Angeles Times, reports against the initiative said it would "adversely affect county services from adoptions to mental health and the collection of data involving hate crimes."
One of the groups organized against the proposition was The Coalition for an Informed California. According to a USA Today article written after the election, this group spent at least $5 million on the campaign to defeat Proposition 54, $2 million of this money was spent on TV advertisements. Connerly said that he spent $225,000.
Role of Health Advocates
Concerns about hurting public health efforts were cited most often as reasons to vote against Proposition 54. Public health advocates built a strong campaign against the initiative and many analysts believe that it was their efforts that defeated Proposition 54.
Los Angeles County's director of public health was quoted by the Los Angeles Times saying "It [Proposition 54] would set public health back a couple hundred years." He believes that gains in life expectancy over the past century are largely due to efforts targeting specific health practices and status of different populations.
Proponents of Proposition 54 tried to assuage the public health community with an exemption for medical research and disease tracking. However, this exemption was seen as unclear and public health advocates continued their campaign against the proposition.
Opposition to Proposition 54 was supported by most of the main candidates running for Governor and many of the state's major newspapers.
In fact, on the Sunday before the election, The San Francisco Chronicle ran an editorial saying "Worse yet, 54 would prohibit the collection of information that is essential to public health. It does provide a narrow exception for 'medical research subjects and patients' - but it would prohibit inclusion of race on birth and death certificates, as well as other demographic data that is vital to public health officials. Ignorance is not bliss. Vote no on 54."
Strong medical groups such as the California Medical Association (CMA) also spoke out against the initiative. Quoted by The San Francisco Chronicle, the chair of CMA's board said, "There is so much that we as physicians learn and use through our traditional epidemiology and public health tools that would be robbed from us by Prop 54."
According to the same San Francisco Chronicle article, the American Civil Rights Coalition - Connerly's group - said that opponents have "distorted the facts of the initiative" and "created hysteria around the medical issue".
Proposition 54 has been a part of at least 3 court battles. In the first court case, proponents of Proposition 54 sued the state - successfully - to get the ballot summary changed to include the exemption for "all medical and healthcare related matter." In the second case, a judge ruled in late August 2003 that based on a suit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the ballot summary language was too broad and had to be changed to include the exact wording of the initiative "for medical research subjects and patients." Finally, in the third case settled just two weeks before the October 7th election, a judge denied state regulators' request to make the supporters of Proposition 54 disclose the names of their donors before the election. The request was denied because the judge felt the state Fair Political Practices Commission had failed to make a convincing case that voters would be harmed by not having donor information.
Demographic Profiles of Voter Distribution
According to a USA Today article, "Interviews with voters after they left the polls showed that 58% of whites, 79% of blacks and 70% of hispanics voted against the proposition." Furthermore, "Older voters of all races were more likely to oppose it."
Connerly has said that he was not surprised by the defeat because he was outspent by opponents and that he plans to continue to push for racial privacy initiatives. According to The San Francisco Chronicle he "plans to reintroduce it in a couple of years after reworking what he called 'flawed' and confusing language. He will turn to opponents in the medical community for help in crafting language to ensure it would protect health care."
However, according to a San Jose Mercury News article, opponents "promised an even bigger fight next time."
|Implemented in this survey?|
As mentioned, Proposition 54 was conceived of and championed by Ward Connerly, a businessman and University of California regent. Connerly has been a long-time sponsor of campaigns against
affirmative action policies and was behind Proposition 209 a successful 1996 initiative that banned the state from using race information in hiring and university admissions. According to
The Washington Post he is also organizing a referendum to ban the use of race as a factor in Michigan where the recent Supreme Court case allowing the limited use of race in university
In order to get Proposition 54 on a ballot Connerly's organization - the American Civil Rights Coalition - started circulating petitions in 2001 and in July 2002 had the 1 million signatures required to qualify for the next state-wide ballot. If the recall had not taken place Proposition 54 would have been a part of the March 7th presidential primary.
Supporters were represented by a loosely organized collection of advocates for race-blind policies in the state of California. These advocates - typically conservatives and libertarians -
tend to oppose policies that they see as encroachment of individual rights by the government. Opponents of Prop 54 were largely public health advocates and the medical community, as well as
groups linked to racial and ethnic advocacy (and affirmative action).
Supporters of Proposition 54
"Connerly has said that as more people marry across racial lines, classifying people into neat racial boxes is outmoded and divisive, " San Francisco Chronicle, Oct 8, 2003.
Groups against collecting race information. Connerly's American Civil Rights Coalition spearheaded Proposition 54 because they believe that collecting racial information is detrimental to the advancement of society. On the Racial Privacy Initiative website the following description is printed:
"The California Constitution forbids state government from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any citizen based on race. Therefore, since government has no reason to classify persons by race, why should it even ask us for the data? Like religion, marital status or sexual orientation, race should become a private matter that is no business of government's. Think how refreshing it would be to throw out the entire system of checking little boxes."
Other supporters include:
If Proposition 54 had passed these groups would have felt they moved California closer to a "race blind" state.
Opponents of Proposition 54
Health-based opposition to Proposition 54 was presented as the primary reason for its defeat. "Proposition 54...died Tuesday night after opponents successfully focused the attention on its possible effects on health care," San Francisco Chronicle, Oct 8, 2003.
There were many groups that mobilized to fight Proposition 54 and none were more successful in their opposition than public health advocates. This constituency is concerned that if people are not able to collect data on race and ethnicity, the health and welfare of our communities will suffer because there are many health issues which need to be targeted to specific groups.
Some of the other groups that fought against Proposition 54 were racial and ethnic organizations that saw the initiative as a threat to racial and ethnic communities in areas such as education, law enforcement, civil rights and, as mentioned, public health.
In fact, a website www.defeat54.org lists the following reasons to vote against Proposition 54:
If the initiative had passed opposition groups would likely have tried to fight it as it continued through the legislative process. Recognizing that any changes in a successful ballot
proposition require a two-thirds majority, their ability to weaken the bill may or may not have been effective.
All of the main gubernatorial candidates - except for Republican Tom McClintock - came out publicly against Proposition 54. Their decision to oppose it was probably an easy one - at least politically - because polls showed that most Californians would vote it down. Therefore, there were political risks to supporting the initiative.
Other opponents include:
Because Proposition 54 did not pass the ballot initiative stage it will not turn into any formalized piece of legislation.
Because Proposition 54 did not pass there will be no implementation process at this point. However, since Ward Connerly, Proposition 54's main author and sponsor, intends to push for a
similar initiative sometime in the next few years he will be actively trying to get others - especially those in the public health field - to support his position. When talking about the defeat
he said that the health issue was the proposition's "Achilles' heel".
Yet, after the sound defeat on October 7th it does not seem likely that Californians will accept a similar proposition until they are convinced it is substantially different than Proposition 54. Furthermore, opponents have vowed to fight even harder in the next round.
Note about Propositions: As a number of policy analysts pointed out, propositions in general can be difficult to pass because it is much easier for people to vote "no" and maintain the status quo than to vote "yes" and face potential changes in their way of life.
Because Proposition 54 did not pass it will not reach its intended objective: to stop California from collecting data on race and ethnicity. It is likely that one of the main reasons
it failed is because voters did not know what the full impact of the proposition would be once implemented.
There were not major concerns about the costs of the proposition; the primary concern that surfaced was from within the public health community. Public health advocates feared that the initiative would have undesirable effects by hurting their ability to conduct research and target health campaigns to specific communities.
Proposition 54's main proponent has pledged to bring this issue to the voters of California again in a few years.
Carol Medlin, Insititute for Global Health, UCSF; Karin Wallestad, MPH/MBA candidate, UC-Berkeley: Sarah Weston, Institute for Global Health, UCSF