Jerry Brown Disappoints Backers of Preferences

Say what you will about California’s enigmatic governor, Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, but on major issues involving votes of the people, Brown is very reluctant to go against the will of the people, no matter what his personal views happen to be.

In 1978, during his first term as governor, Brown opposed the highly popular Proposition 13, which was approved by the voters to place a lid on property taxes imposed by local governments.

In 1996, the voters also approved Proposition 209 by the substantial margin of 55-45 to prohibit preferential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity and gender in public employment, public education and public contracting.

On both issues – caps on property taxes and race preferences – Brown was on the opposite side of the majority of the electorate.  Notwithstanding this fact, when called upon to take action that was in contradiction of the people’s will, to his credit Brown sided with the people.

The latest test involved SB 185, a bill that represented priority legislation of the California Legislative Latino Caucus, the majority of whose members do not share a similar respect for the will of the people as Brown.

SB 185 would have allowed California’s two systems of higher education – the University of California and the California State University systems – to “consider” race, gender and ethnicity in the admissions process.  Gratuitously added in SB 185 was a requirement that no “preferential treatment” could be given.  The obvious question was how could an admissions officer “consider” race without conferring “preferential treatment.”

SB 185 represented the third attempt by a member of the Latino Caucus to circumvent 209 by legislative fiat.  On each of the two prior occasions, Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, with the message that the bills were unconstitutional, vetoed the bills.

In his veto message, Brown said: “Signing this bill is unlikely to impact how Proposition 209 is ultimately interpreted by the courts; it will just encourage the 209 advocates to file more costly and confusing lawsuits.”  

Brown continued, “I wholeheartedly agree with the goal of this legislation. Proposition 209 should be interpreted to allow UC and CSU to consider race and other relevant factors in their admissions policies to the extent permitted under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

While I applaud Brown’s ultimate decision, his support for the “goal” of SB 185 is disturbing.  As the California Supreme Court has said quite forcefully, the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not countenance race discrimination.

This is one of the lessons of this incident, a lesson taught by the College Republicans (CRs) of the University of California at Berkeley, who sponsored a satirical “Diversity Bake Sale” in which cookies and cupcakes were sold at prices based on the race, gender and ethnicity of the purchasers.

The CRs called attention to the blatant racism inherent in SB 185, not to mention the fact that the bill constituted a violation of California’s Constitution.  In doing so, the CRs acknowledged that their bake sale was also “inherently racist” because of its discriminatory price structure, but they hastened to add that such was the point.

Hopefully, the day will come when elected officials such as Brown will veto measures like SB 185 because they agree that discrimination based on race is fundamentally contrary to the basic values and ideals of America.

The second lesson to be learned from the SB 185 experience involves the California Legislative Caucus.  All projections indicate that Latinos will become the demographic majority in California in very short order; however, if Latinos in the California Legislature govern by coalescing on the basis of their ethnic majority and voting as a bloc to confer benefits to themselves, then California will be confronted with a very troubling future.

Throughout American history, America’s white majority has conducted itself in a benevolent way toward racial “minorities.”  To vote preferences for Latinos, as has been the continuing intent of the California Legislative Latino caucus, because they have the political muscle to do so, will create social upheaval and is contrary to many ideals of the nation.

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Ward Connerly

Ward Connerly is founder and President of the American Civil Rights Institute.

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