Latest newsletter #155 Click to read online

California Asian-Americans block affirmative action revival

Babette Francis

The Oakland Tribune reported on 18 March that stunned by an unexpected uprising within their party's minority base, Democratic legislators have dropped a push to reverse California's 16-year-old ban on affirmative action in college admissions. Constitutional Amendment 5 -- which would have put the issue before voters -- cleared the state Senate in late January on a party-line vote. But as word of the bill spread, so did resistance, mostly from families concerned that race-based affirmative action would unfairly disadvantage Asian applicants to the very competitive University of California campuses in Los Angeles and Berkeley.

The strong opposition and quick success of a relatively small and reliably Democratic ethnic group, 14% of the state's population in 2012 -- revealed a new political strength. The bill's rapid demise culminated with about-face by three Asian-American senators who voted for the bill in January, and its author, Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, is making no promises about its revival, although he said he would like to bring it back. Republicans won't go along with that, their state Senate leader said Monday. "Republicans will continue to oppose this measure in any way, shape or form," said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

Black, Latino and Native American students made up almost 54 percent of California's high school graduates in 2012 -- but just 27 percent of all freshmen, UC-wide, and 16 percent of UC Berkeley's freshmen class that year. Asian-Americans make up about 38 percent of UC undergraduates and have a high rate of freshman admission to its nine undergraduate campuses -- 73 percent in 2013, compared to 63 percent of all in-state applicants. Few issues are as personal to voters as education, which explains the intense negative reaction some had to the bill, said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative policy analysis group at Stanford University. "This was remarkably bad politics on the Democrats' part," Whalen said. "I can think of few things more destructive than pitting one constituency of a party against another". That's what affirmative action does, it pitts one group against another. In the US it is African-Americans, Hispanics and women against Asian-Americans and white men. In Australia it is women and Aborigines against - you guessed it - white men.

Last week, saying they had received thousands of calls and emails from constituents, senators Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; Ted Lieu, D-Torrance; and Carol Liu, D-La Canada/Flintridge asked Assembly Speaker John Perez to stop the bill. "As lifelong advocates for the Asian-American and other communities, we would never support a policy that we believed would negatively impact our children," they wrote in a letter to Perez.

In 1996, California became the first state to outlaw affirmative action in public university admissions and state hiring, a policy that took effect in 1998. The amendment would have allowed voters to lift that ban, either this fall or in 2016. Hernandez said that misinformation about what affirmative action would mean -- such as racial quotas for new freshmen -- spread quickly, stoking parents' fears about their children's chances of getting into UC, the state's public research university system. Racial quotas are unconstitutional in the US but affirmative action leads to quotas.

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