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Latino, black state lawmakers press California gubernatorial candidates on affirmative action

 (Los Angeles Times)
(Los Angeles Times)

Latino and black state lawmakers are calling on gubernatorial candidates to publicly state their opinion about affirmative action, injecting into the 2018 contest a potentially volatile racial issue that has previously splintered California Democrats.

“Each of our caucuses, as you may know, is driven by a mission to further the interests of all Californians through advocacy for programs and policies that promote diversity and empowerment. To that end, we would appreciate your candid thoughts and official position on affirmative action and related topics,” wrote state Sen. Ben Hueso and state Assemblyman Chris Holden, the chairmen of the Latino and black legislative caucuses respectively, to the six most prominent gubernatorial candidates.

The candidates are being asked to describe their views on affirmative action, their thoughts on the ramifications of the 1996 law that bans its use at publicly funded colleges and universities, their track record on diversity and equity efforts, and specific proposals they would try to enact on such matters in schools, state government, businesses and nonprofits if elected governor.

A 2003 report by the University of California found that implementing race-neutral admissions policies led to a "substantial decline" in the proportion of black, Latino and American Indian students entering the system's most selective institutions.

The question raises a 2014 effort led by Latino and black Democratic members of the Legislature to repeal the ban on affirmative action. While polling shows that Democratic voters tend to favor efforts to increase opportunities for underrepresented minorities, schisms emerged on racial lines in the party when state lawmakers tried to repeal the ban.

 (Los Angeles Times)
(Los Angeles Times)

The measure quietly sailed through the state Senate before it caught the attention of Asian American activists, who vocally argued that their children would be harmed if affirmative action were reinstated.

On popular Chinese-language social media networks, some said the number of Asian students admitted to UC schools would be slashed, called the measure the "Yellow Peril Act" and compared it to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which restricted Chinese immigration.

The activism worked – Asian American senators who supported the move expressed new reservations, and others in the state Assembly vowed to oppose it, leading then-Assembly Speaker John Perez to shelve it. 

The caucuses’ letter was mailed Friday to Democrats Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villaraigosa, John Chiang and Delaine Eastin, and Republicans John Cox and Travis Allen. Some of those campaigns did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, while others said they had not yet received the letter or were formulating a response.

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