California's Proposition 16 would have California's public agencies and higher education institutions to consider race, gender, and ethnicity when deciding on contracting, hiring, and admissions. The measure would have reversed Prop. 209, which banned such preferences in 1996.,
The vote was 56.5 percent against Prop 16. All of which raises the question: Why in a diverse, politically liberal state did people vote against affirmative action?
Supporters of the status quo -- or no affirmative action -- were quick to say that the vote proves that the current system is working well.
Gail Heriot, a professor of law at the University of San Diego, has been involved in the fight against affirmative action since the campaign for Proposition 209, the measure that banned it in the state. She was co-chair of the No on Prop 16 Committee.
She noted that the campaign for Prop 16 had far more money than the campaign against it. And that politicians lined up to support it.
"I think California voters voted their conscience on the issue," Heriot said. "People think everyone votes according to their race and sex. Californians reject identity politics."
She added that the University of California system remains a very diverse system. When examining the total number of students it enrolls and graduates, 40 percent are Black and Latinx. She is correct over all, but figures at the University of California campuses at Berkeley and Los Angeles do not support her thesis about the system.
To that point she says, "students were more likely to go to the university campus where they can be competitive and so grad rates have increased."
Yukong Zhao, president of the Asian American Coalition for Education, said, “The resounding rejection of Proposition 16 demonstrates again that we are on the right side of the history."
Fighting for the Asian American vote was a key part of the campaign against Prop 16. While there were prominent Asian American backers of the measure, Zhao noted that many Asian Americans feel that affirmative action in effect legalizes discrimination against them. At Berkeley this year, 42 percent of freshmen are Asian, 21 percent are Latinx, 17 percent are white and 4 percent are Black.
Zhao had a message for politicians in other states. "Going forward, I’d like to warn liberal politicians in California and nationwide: focus your efforts on devising effective measures to improve K-12 education for Black and Hispanic children, instead of introducing racially divisive and discriminatory laws time and again. You have failed in California in 2014, as well as Washington State and New York City in 2019. Asian Americans will fight fiercely and defeat your racist policies wherever and whenever tried," he said. (The reference to Washington State refers to a push to undo a measure similar to Prop 16 there. The reference to New York City involves a proposal for the high schools that award spots based on standardized test scores.)