SPECIAL SERIES : 2003 California Recall Election
SF State Reacts to Prop. 54 Failure
Students and faculty perplexed by differing results of election
October 8, 2003 5:43 PM
Reactions range from relieved to puzzled among SF State students and faculty members at the failure of a measure that would have ended the collection of racial information by California state agencies.
Proposition 54 would have made the collection of racial data by any state agency illegal, even if the agency’s method of collection was voluntary such as at SF State. Supporters of the measure said it would allow Californians to keep their race private and to be judged as citizens instead of by their race. Opponents of the measure said not collecting racial data makes it impossible to know where disparities exist in heatlh care, education, law enforcement and other areas.
Many provisional and absentee ballots have not been counted, but it appears that the measure has been defeated by a large margin. The Secretary of State’s office reports on its Web site that of the votes that have been counted, 64 percent of California voters voted against the proposition.
At SF State, opinions vary among some students and faculty as to the significance of the failure of the measure. Some don’t know what to make of the fact that while a Republican was elected governor with nearly 50 percent of the vote, a conservative-flavored ballot measure was so soundly rejected.
Sharon Richardson, a graduate student in social work, said she was very relieved that Proposition 54 failed.
“Not only would the passage have done away with our ability to serve everyone, but we would have reopened the doors to discrimination,” she said.
Richardson, 49, said the lack of racial information would have hindered social workers’ ability to do research, which in turn would affect funding for social programs. She said a specific group that would not have been served would be low-income single mothers, who are already not getting access to sufficient access to childcare and other supports. Proposition 54 would have only intensified these existing problems, she said.
Some students were unhappy that the measure failed. Robert Freeman, a physical therapy major, said that he thought Proposition 54 would have helped minorities be considered more equal in society, but that now inequalities would remain as they are.
Some of SF State’s faculty believe that the failure of the measure is part of a broad rejection of Ward Connerly’s ideas on how to deal with race. Connerly sponsored Proposition 54 and also in 1996 sponsored Proposition 209, which outlawed affirmative action by California state agencies.
“Connerly’s been put to rest as an aborted experiment – at least in California,” said Kenneth Monteiro, SF State’s dean of human relations. He said Californians are searching for a new way to understand race and racism and how it affects their lives. But voters realized that Connerly did not represent what they wanted, he said.
Some faculty and students expressed surprise that Proposition 54 lost so dramatically at the same time that Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, was elected with nearly 50 percent of the vote, according the Secretary of State’s Web site.
“I’m not sure that you can make sense of it,” said Corey Cook, political science professor whose speciality is California politics.
Cook pointed out that surveys done back in March, when the recall was still hypothetical, showed that voters had already decided how they would vote on the recall – about 55 percent for the recall, 45 percent against – and that those numbers had not significantly changed to the very day of the election. But the 64 percent against Proposition 54 – and the identical percentage voting against Proposition 53, a measure which allow California General Fund monies to be set aside for infrastructure projects – may indicate that voters just may have voted no because they didn’t fully understand the measures.
James Martel, political science professor who specializes in American politics and political theory, suggested that voters selected Schwarzenegger and rejected Proposition 54 as a call for moderate conservatism, and that the initiative represented a right-wing idea that most Californians just could not accept.
“Only, very, very conservative people voted for Proposition 54,” he said.
Sylvia Lucas, a political science major, somewhat echoed Martel in his comments.
“I’m ecstatic that the people of California are not ignorant enough to pass Prop. 54 at the same time that they elected Schwarzenegger,” the 20-year-old said.
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