The push to dismantle affirmative action is finally coming to a
shove in one of Election 1996's most volatile and important
The California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), now known as
Proposition 209 on the November state ballot, sparked unprecedented
public and media response when it was announced last year. The
contentious measure seeks to end decades-old government programs
that give preference to minorities and women for jobs, promotions,
contracts, and college admissions.
Now, with eight weeks left before voters go to the polls and
sentiment against the measure growing more vocal, Proposition 209
has become a potential election-year minefield, particularly for
The candidates are treading lightly on the issue (President
Clinton is officially against it, Bob Dole for it), while state,
local, and congressional officials are coming down on all sides
with varying degrees of vehemence.
Sentiment on the issue could sway enough votes to influence the
fight for control of the state Assembly, the US House, and
California's bonanza of 54 electoral votes. And if the measure
passes, it has the potential to trigger a remake of social policy
from statehouses nationwide to Congress.
"Politicians from here to Washington are holding their breath to
see what happens to another big California initiative," says Alan
Heslop, director of the Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College
in Claremont, Calif. "This has the potential, like the Prop. 13 tax
revolt and Prop. 187 immigration measure, to set new national norms
on a vital national issue."
The initiative is heavily favored by voters (2 to 1 in most
polls), prompting Mr. Clinton to keep quiet about his opposition
for fear of alienating white men, a key voting bloc. Mr. Dole's
support for 209, once considered a boon in a state he badly needs
to carry, has become problematic, partly because of vocal
opposition, partly because of similar federal legislation that he
introduced then dropped, and partly because of strong attacks once
heaped on Dole's antiaffirmative-action stances by Jack Kemp, now
his running mate.
But despite Dole's desire to avoid stumbling on the issue,
Republicans, among others, have pushed it to center stage in recent
weeks. In the lead up to this week's state Republican convention,
Gov. Pete Wilson and House Speaker Newt Gingrich called 60 of the
state's corporate leaders, asking for strong support for the
measure in the face of growing anti-209 sentiment. …