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¡§When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I

Proposition 209: Behind the Scenes                 Michael Chen


Lydia Chavez grew up in Albuquerque New Mexico. She received her bachelors degree in comparative literature from the University of California, Berkeley in 1974 and received her masters degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1977. Her work in the book, The Color Bind: California¡¦s Battle to End Affirmative Action, won her the first-ever Leonard Silk Fellowship Award.   She is currently Associate Professor at the School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.



Affirmative action is a highly controversial issue that refers to policies aimed at minority groups of a society for the purpose of increasing representation in areas such as education and employment.  In Lydia Chavez¡¦s book, The Color Bind: California¡¦s Battle to End Affirmative Action, she addresses this issue in California as she walks the reader through the campaign of Proposition 209, which is an anti-affirmative action initiative.  Chavez claims that she does not necessarily take a supporting or opposing stance, stating that there are ¡§already many books that argue for or against affirmative action¡¨ and that her book ¡§is not one of them.¡¨1 Taking a neutral stance on the issue, the book fairly reveals both sides of the arguments and provides reasonable arguments for each stance.

Chavez first discusses the side that supports the end of affirmative action, introducing key players of the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) such as Glynn Custred, Thomas Wood, Pete Wilson, and Wardell Anthony Connerly.  Glynn Custred, a teacher at Hayward State, saw his campus experience an increased interest in multiculturalism.  A self-proclaimed anthropologist, he believes that ¡§to live in harmony, Americans had to find common ground.¡¨2 In his opinion, affirmative action was racist, and after stumbling upon a copy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he came to the conclusion that affirmative action was unconstitutional and decided to find some way to stop it. In another case, Thomas E. Wood faced denial in his applications to full-time jobs.  After getting denied repeatedly, he took part-time jobs.  While working, he stumbled upon history of the US Supreme Court¡¦s 1978 Bakke decision.  He then concluded that his failure to find full-time jobs was a result of affirmative action and also decided to take action.  This led to his meeting with Custred in 1991.    Both originally without a strong connection to any political party, they found their way to the Republican Party, which saw political possibility in the issue.  In his gubernatorial reelection campaign in 1994, Pete Wilson turned voter attention to illegal immigration and ran his campaign based on Proposition 187, a citizen-initiated ballot measure that promised to deny health and education benefits to illegal immigrants.  His political action was successful and he was reelected by the voters, who happened to be predominately white.  At the end of the illegal immigration initiative, Custred¡¦s and Wood¡¦s CCRI appeared to be the ¡§proverbial right-place, right-time proposal¡¨ to follow up Proposition 187. 3    Wardell Anthony Connerly, on the other hand, was an established African American who found affirmative action the ¡§ultimate insult,¡¨ claiming he doesn¡¦t need any ¡§brownie points.¡¨4 A friend of Wilson¡¦s, Connerly¡¦s and Wilson¡¦s first move against affirmative action involved the University of California (UC) system.  They believed affirmative action in UCs were unfair and eventually ended up putting the issue of UC hiring, promotion, and admission on the ballot.  By majority vote, affirmative action ended in the UC system.  Wilson and Connerly eventually joined Custred and Wood to pass their initiative, because they feared that the universities would rescind their decision if the initiative was not passed.

Following this, Chavez introduces the opposing side, which was based on three loosely organized groups: civil rights leaders, women¡¦s rights leaders, and Democrats hoping to wrest control from the Republicans.  These people had a difficult time with ¡§sound bites¡¨ used in the CCRI because the initiative¡¦s wording never mentioned affirmative action.  It ¡§sounded as if it had been written by Martin Luther King, Jr. himself,¡¨ not to mention its name, California Civil Rights Initiative, ¡§appropriated the ideals of Martin Luther King, Jr.¡¨ 5 Voters would not know that they would be voting to end affirmative action.  Opposition faced more problems, as some women would not join because they feared that their husbands and sons would have hard times finding jobs if affirmative action continued.  Northern and Southern Democrats could not agree on a plan to combat the CCRI, either.  They ended up splitting into two groups; one supporting an alternative initiative strategy that preserves affirmative action and another that would educate voters of the CCRI¡¦s true, and encourages them to vote against it.  Neither the opposition nor the supporters were able to get their presidential candidate¡¦s full backing, and both were plagued by funding complications.

The opposition continued to face more problems.  The Northern Democrats¡¦ alternate initiative plan failed because it was interpreted as ¡§too clever;¡¨ instead of eradicating quotas, it ¡§would end education programs designed for minorities ¡V programs the analyst interpreted as having quotas.¡¨ 6 The women of the opposition followed a new plan and tried to turn the issue of affirmative action, which had been turning into a race issue, instead into a gender issue.  That way, their support base would broaden.  The North and South then arrange a ¡§forced marriage¡¨ in attempts to increase influence.  However, problems still arose.  Members of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Feminist Majority argue amongst each other about funding issues.  The ¡§sound bites¡¨ were going to remain a problem.  The wording of Proposition 209 was taken to court on charges that it would be misleading to voters; however the court ruled that the wording did not have to be changed.  Bill Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, continued to make speeches that do not clearly put him on either side of the issue by taking an ambiguous stance.  He indicates that he supports affirmative action but at the same time supports those against segregation.  He proposes to mend the system, and his approach attracts voters of both coalitions.  Democrat unrest continued as black members wanting more representation accused the feminists of racism because the feminist leaders did not allow new members to higher seats of the Democratic coalition.  These accusations combined with arguments that already existed between leading members led to the Feminist Majority and NOW breaking off from the group. The Republicans gained the upper hand because they had a better budget, which allowed for radio advertisements stating that Proposition 209 ¡§ends discrimination,¡¨ which no one would oppose. 7

The book¡¦s tone becomes hectic as Election Day approaches.  Republicans begin facing more problems.  They accidentally invite reporter Rick Orlov to one of their meetings.  During that meeting, it had become apparent that the affirmative action issue was instead seen as a way to help Republicans win Congress and the presidency, and great measures were taken to assure the passage of the proposition. Republicans then faced a greater problem as David Duke, an ex-Klansman, publicly announced his support of the proposition.  This drove away support; an ex-Klansman supporting an initiative banning discrimination appeared paradoxical.  Their problems continued as their presidential and vice-presidential candidates continued to take unclear stances on the issue.  This was because of economic conditions.  Wilson was successful during his gubernatorial reelection campaign because California had been facing an economic slump, and white voters found it convenient to blame the problem on illegal immigration. Now that California was rebounding, the issue did not appear as threatening as it once was.  Republicans made another mistake on one of their ads: they depicted Martin Luther King Jr. as a supporter of the proposition.  This ignited the anger of civil rights leaders, who previously avoided the issue.  Ultimately, despite all the mistakes that were made, Proposition 209 passed on Election Day.  But its passage does not affect the presidential campaign and Clinton takes the majority of California, and important win over Dole.  It appeared that even after elections, voters were still confused about the initiative.  Polls taken after the election indicate a different response to affirmative action, basically opposite to the vote results.  It showed that the majority of people did support affirmative action, despite the passage of Proposition 209.  This led to a court case involving the constitutionality of the proposition.  The court first ruled that the implementation of the proposition would not take place until the matter was concluded, but the decision was overturned because it was decided that ¡§a system which permits one judge to block with the stroke of a pen what 47,736,180 state residents voted to enact as law tests the integrity of our constitutional democracy.¡¨8 

Chavez thoroughly explained the arguments for supporting and opposing affirmative action.  Those who encouraged affirmative action believed that the programs are needed to ¡§improve conditions of those excluded from the American dream¡¨ for so long, to level the playing field for those without the same educational and financial opportunities as others, and to increase the diversity of places for example, a student body because of the reality of a multicultural world.9  Those opposing affirmative action may have defended their stance by saying that reverse discrimination, and any form of discrimination in general, needs to be taken care of at an early stage so there will be no problems in the future.  Common ground must be found or the diverse range of races will not be able to live together, and even those that benefit from affirmative action plans may be insulted.  Chavez concluded that despite the majority support for affirmative action, Proposition 209 was still passed for various reasons.  The Republican victory was a result of better leadership, greater campaign funding, well-versed ¡§sound bites¡¨, and the constant dissent within in the Democratic coalition.  She mentions, however, that the after effect proved favorable to the Democrats because their presidential candidate Bill Clinton gets reelected and the Latino voting turn out increased, gradually pushing power to the Democrats.

Although it appeared as if the book only recounted the story of Proposition 209 and objectively presented arguments of both sides on defending their stance, Chavez indirectly calls for the change of the reform of the initiative process, because "it is a process that desperately needs reform."10 She revealed all sorts of schemes that went undetected by the public eye as each side attempted to rally voters.  The initiative process, with the intentions of allowing the ordinary citizen to change the law, instead "permits wealthy special interest groups to bypass the deliberative process and change laws in their narrow interest"; mass amounts of money are poured in with the sole purpose of getting an initiative on the ballot and then more money was put in to campaign supporting or opposing it.  She believes that ¡§anyone with a million dollars to pay for the signatures necessary to put an initiative on the ballot can attempt to enact laws or change a state constitution.¡¨11 Chavez reveals the various crafty tactics that politicians used like the elusive wording used in the CCRI campaign.  Although the initiative was basically about ending affirmative action programs, it never specifically mentioned the word ¡§affirmative action¡¨ in its articles.  This was one of the many intentional moves made by the anti-affirmative action organization, but they were not the only ones to use deceitful tactics.  Chavez also showed how the issue, and issues in general, becomes less about actually resolving the issue itself but rather about how politicians take advantage of it for their interests.  She makes reference to Pat Buchanan who ¡§was genuinely opposed to affirmative action¡¨ and that for him, ¡§CCRI wasn¡¦t merely a matter of convenience.¡¨ 12 This indicated that maybe only a few of the anti-affirmative action members actually cared about the issue, instead of treating it as a tool to gain political power.

Civil Rights Journal¡¦s Frank H. Wu presents a critical review of Chavez¡¦s book.  After giving a summary of the book, he believes that Chavez failed to give some information about affirmative action that he considered necessary, such as the ¡§complexities that underlie the seminal public policy issue¡¨ and how she ¡§does not, unfortunately, offer even a sampling of the data that show blacks and whites face differing life prospects, or review disputes over how to respond to such facts.¡¨ He does, however, respond positively to Chavez¡¦s discussion of ¡§aspects of Proposition 209 campaign that deserved more attention than they were given in the daily news.¡¨ Despite being critical for the majority of the review, he ends it favorably, stating that ¡§Chavez's book is likely to become the standard history of this important ballot initiative.¡¨13 New York Times¡¦s Douglas A. Sylva also reviewed and approved the book.  He believes that Chavez ¡§makes a strong case that ¡¥leaving central questions of social policy up to a popular vote is nonsense.¡¦¡¨   His view of the books message differed from Wu¡¦s because he believed that it was mainly about the ballot initiative process, instead of the topic of affirmative action.  He agrees with Chavez¡¦s view of corruption in the process and how marketing skills play a key role in passing measures.  He commends the book, describing it as ¡§fair and well-written.¡¨ 14

Lydia Chavez¡¦s neutral stance taken throughout the book allowed her to reveal more information on both sides that would otherwise not be possible if she were to support only one side.  If she did, she would have to shape her argument supporting that side in the book, which would leave out important information about the opposing side.  Her overall tone made the events feel more tangible, because she implements many quotes and testimonies from interviews and research.  This made the book more interesting, however sometimes the quotes she used seemed out of place for example, putting quotes in such as ¡§¡¥What is he smoking?¡¦¡¨ and ¡§¡¥I was afraid he was going to pick me up and beat the crap out of me¡¦¡¨. 15 Although these particular quotes seemed out of context with the overall tone of the book, they do not make the book any less interesting.  Overall the book offered great insight on a historical event without the dull tone of a standard history textbook.

California was influenced by the increasing diversity of society for various reasons.  Just as Custred experienced on his own campus, campus from all over the state as well as other parts of the nations were embracing multiculturalism.  Other campuses across the nation probably reacted in similar ways, and affirmative action was becoming a national issue.  California was distinctive, however, for its amount of electoral votes.  They were valuable and Clinton ¡§could not return to the White House without those votes.¡¨ 16 This led to increased focus on California over the other states.  California also had a history of big court cases involving affirmative action, one being Bakke v. Regents of the University of California, which affirmed constitutionality of affirmative action programs but forbid quotas.

Chavez realizes that the events that took place in California are important to the rest of the country.  Although she wrote about events taking place in California, the conflict over affirmative action became a national issue, relating to the presidential election.  California was a ¡§must-win¡¨ state, and that forced the presidential candidates to address the issue of affirmative action.  Although none of the candidates fully embraced their stance, they did make some reference to it, raising awareness in the nation.  Chavez even ended the book by revealing the impact of the conflict: following the passing of the initiative, ¡§The following day Houston voters rejected an initiative to ban affirmative action, and that same week the House Judiciary Committee killed federal legislation to end affirmative action.¡¨8

California¡¦s battle to end affirmative action was indeed an intense one.  First addressing the arguments of both sides, Chavez then reveals that what appeared just to be an argument about an initiative between two sides had much more going on behind the scenes.  She claims that ¡§watching the campaign in motion was like witnessing democracy in free fall.¡¨17 Chavez exposed some of the many schemes and ploys that were utilized by both sides in order to attain supporters, and finally expressed the need for the reform of the well-intentioned but abused initiative system.


1. Chavez, Lydia. Preface. The Color Bind: California¡¦s Battle to End Affirmative Action. By: Lydia Chavez. California: The Regents of the University of California, 1998. xiii

2. Chavez, Lydia 7.

3. Chavez, Lydia 2.

4. Chavez, Lydia 32.

5. Chavez, Lydia 80-85.

6. Chavez, Lydia 134.

7. Chavez, Lydia 180-85.

8. Chavez, Lydia 241.

9. Chavez, Lydia 19

10. Chavez, Lydia 243.

11. Chavez, Lydia 245.

12. Chavez, Lydia 111

13. Wu, Frank. ¡§The Color Bind: California¡¦s Battle to End Affirmative Action Review.¡¨ Business Network 1998. 30 May 2008 <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0HSP/is_1_3/ai_66678549/pg_1>

14. Sylva, Douglas. ¡§The Color Bind: California¡¦s Battle to End Affirmative Action Review.¡¨ The New York Times 20 September 1998. 29 May 2008 <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9806EED91E3EF933A1575AC0A96E958260>

15. Chavez, Lydia 29, 33

16. Chavez, Lydia 2

17. Chavez, Lydia 244.