Do “minorities” need protection in California?
It is the question that Leland Yee and two of his State Senate colleagues — Ted Lieu and Carol Liu — essentially asked in March when they got Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 buried.
SCA5 was passed in the State Senate in January with the two thirds vote required of any attempt to monkey with the California constitution. That was back in the glory days of the State Senate Democrats when they held a super majority and could do anything they wanted without a single Republican vote as long as every Democrat in the chamber was present and voting “yes.”
Now that Lee has left the building after being suspended based on his indictment for supposedly offering to broker a deal with an undercover FBI agent to supply him with shoulder mounted rocket launchers from a Philippines terrorist group, the super majority is history.
SCA5 was designed to ask voters to repeal a section of Proposition 209. The ballot measure approved in 1996 by California voters prohibited public institutions such as the state university systems from discriminating based on race. The language of SCA5 specifically allows ethnicity to once again become a factor in university admissions.
After the senate passed SCA5 Yee, Lieu and Liu were swamped with communications from Californians who for the most part were Asian Pacific Islanders. The trio wrote a joint letter to Assembly Speaker John Perez on March 11 asking that the very bill they voted for two months prior be yanked from consideration in the lower house. Then several days later Ed Hernandez, the state senator who authored SCA5, requested Perez send the measure back to the State Senate without having the Assembly take action. Perez obliged.
The official line from Perez was that SCA5 as written required a two thirds majority vote in both legislative chambers and that he lacked the votes to get it passed in the Assembly.
If that strikes you as an unusual move, it is. Typically bills that pass in one chamber that can’t immediately pass in another are debated, amended and then sent back to the originating chamber to see if a compromise can be reached. Or in cases where Democrats or Republicans see it as an opportunity to make political hay, they push the legislation through knowing it doesn’t have enough votes to pass so they can get the opposition to go on record opposing it. They then use that against them in the next campaign.
So what makes SCA5 different?
Perhaps it was a minority group buying into the libertarian viewpoint that racial quotas hold back individuals including those who are counted as being part of a minority.
Back before Proposition 209 passed in 1996, admission was capped to the University of California system largely on ethnicity. Today Asian Pacific Islanders have a 50 percent better chance at getting admitted to campuses such as the University of California at Berkeley than they did before 1996.
Statistics also show Hispanics now make up 28.1 percent of the freshman class at University of California campuses as oppose to 13.8 percent in 1996. Blacks during the same time period went from 3.8 percent to 4 percent. It should be noted that admission rates for both Hispanics and Blacks dipped a few years back but are bouncing back and are still ahead of 1996 levels.
That said, it is true admission rates do not mirror statewide ethnicity breakdowns,
Since incoming freshmen are judged for admission primarily on merit the number of Asian Pacific Islanders at Berkeley has soared.
Some argue it reflects not an ethnic advantage but a cultural advantage. For a variety of reasons, education tends to be stressed much more aggressively in Asian Pacific Islander households than in others. It may be a generality and in some quarters that could be construed as a racist observation. But at the end of the day it means that individuals that achieve are more likely to gain admission to the UC system without race playing a role. The question that needs to be debated is simple: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
The Democrats essentially avoided having such a conversation.
If we are to move forward as a civilization it must take place.
Role models that are true role models are needed across the spectrum of social-economic groups as well as ethnicity. But at the same time every child needs to have the same right to succeed if they achieve. They should not be mutually exclusive goals.
The Republican doctrine seems to perpetuate the myth that all individuals can succeed to their highest potential without any “crutch.” The Democrats, up until backpedaling by the state senate trio, seem to equate quotas to equal opportunity.
The world is not scripted in stark shades of black and white. The current UC system admissions process is more gray than black and white. SCA5 would have sent it backwards to a more black and white age. What is needed is a tad more gray but not in the form of admissions based on ethnicity but instead on the true major hurdle to higher education – social-economic barriers.
Admission shouldn’t be color blind but it shouldn’t be completely blind to potential and ability that is hobbled by the chains of socio-economic disadvantages.
Of course such a conversation wouldn’t easily win over the loudest advocacy groups that the Democrats or Republicans deal with in order to get elected.
Politically speaking, its a lot safer for the Democrats and their Republican colleagues to continue painting admission to the UC system in strictly black and white tones.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.