Asian-Americans Oppose California’s Initiative to Revive Affirmative Action

An Asian-American lobbyist group in California, the 80-20 Initiative, may have played a very large part in backing down legislators who were considering exempting Proposition 209. This law was a vehicle by which no race could be singled out for special treatment when applying to California colleges and universities. Prop 209 was clear in its language.

The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment or education.

Admission rates for blacks and Latinos at the ten-campus University of California (UC) have plummeted since Prop 209 was enacted. But Asian-Americans, particularly Chinese and Indians, have done well: in 2011-12 they made up 14% of public high-school graduates but over a third of UC undergraduate entrants.

When the bill passed the Senate, the 80-20 Initiative swiftly connected with their voluminous email contacts requesting that they contact the Asian-American Legislators to put the kibosh on SCA5, which some are calling the Skin Color Act. The bill was withdrawn from consideration on March 17. The Asian-American community had won a political battle. Not a group that immerses itself in the world of politics, nor in getting out to vote, this event may be a new beginning for the minority. "S.B. Woo, 80-20's co-founder, likes to think so. It is time for Asians to acquire the political sophistication of whites, he argues; they should harass Asian politicians who fail their constituents, and should be willing to play the parties off against each other."

There is no doubt that without Proposition 209, Asian-American students would be at risk of not being admitted to institutions of higher education. If an affirmative action type situation is restored, it will level the playing field for those who might not ordinarily be accepted to college. Asian-Americans, many of whom are good students want high-performance, academic excellence, and merit to be the yardstick for admissions, not minority status.

State Representative Connie Conway (R-Visalia) told more than 150 community members, "Why work hard when that hard work will not be rewarded?" Ward Connerly, the author of Proposition 209 was more explicit, warning the crowd that SCA 5 would guarantee that "the number of Asians [in California universities] will be diminished and the number of Latinos will be increased…. That's the whole objective."

Interestingly, 60% of the Asian-American constituency voted against Prop 209 in 1996. Also, according to the National Asian-American Survey, more than that voted for affirmative action in 2012. The conundrum becomes how will politicians deal with this very loud, but small anti-SCA5 group that is beginning to remind some of the Tea Party.

Will a version of SCA5 be brought up again. Yes, it is probable. Will many Asian-American citizens of California be registering as Republicans? Yes, if Mr. Woo has anything to do with it. Woo says that he thinks that the California Legislature has been taught a lesson, but he adds, "It is also our effort to help make America ‘a more perfect union.' "

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