This post is about California’s Proposition 16 of 2020.
(Background information about California’s ballot proposition process may be found here.)
Proposition 16 of 2020 (which failed) sought to undo Proposition 209 of 1996 (which passed), so let’s first examine that earlier proposition.
Proposition 209 of 1996 added Section 31 to Article I of the California state constitution, which reads in relevant part:
The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.
Proposition 209 passed by a margin of 55% in favor to 45% opposed. Votes were cast by 10 million citizens out of 16 million registered voters (66% turnout). (source)
Proposition 16 of 2020 proposed to repeal Section 31 of Article I. Proposition 16 failed by a margin of 57% opposed to 43% in favor. Votes were cast by 18 million citizens out of 22 million registered voters (81% turnout). (source)
There are two ways that propositions can be placed on the ballot in California: by the voters (initiative) or by the legislature (referendum). Proposition 209 of 1996 was a voter initiative. Proposition 16 of 2020 was a referendum put before the voters by the legislature.
Proposition 16 was the result of Assembly Constitutional Amendment No. 5 (ACA-5) of 2020:
A resolution to propose to the people of the State of California an amendment to the Constitution of the State, by repealing Section 31 of Article I thereof, relating to government preferences.
ACA-5 was passed by the California legislature one year ago this month by large majorities: 60 to 14 in the 80-member Assembly and 30 to 10 in the 40-member Senate. (source)
In other words, in 2020 the California legislature sought to undo what California voters had initiated and passed in 1996; and the voters soundly rejected this attempt.
ACA-5 included a statement of legislative findings consisting of 19 “WHEREAS” paragraphs explaining why the legislature felt that Section 31 of Article I should be repealed. See ACA-5 here. In brief, the legislature felt that past discrimination and disparate outcomes justified government preferences for women and minorities. The voters did not agree that government preferences are good for society.
Three additional factors warrant noting.
First, Proposition 16 was supported by almost the entire California establishment – not just the legislature, but also:
Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein; former Senator Barbara Boxer; at least 30 Democratic members of the U.S. House, including Nancy Pelosi; and Governor Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, State Controller Betty Yee, State Treasurer Fiona Ma, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and hundreds of other local officials. It was also supported by many of the state’s newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, The Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle, The San Diego Union-Tribune, La Opinión, the East Bay Times, The Sacramento Bee, The Fresno Bee, and The Modesto Bee. (source)
California’s political and media establishments are significantly out of step with the people on this issue.
Second, supporters of Proposition 16 outspent opponents by $27 million to $1.7 million. (source) The monied establishment is also out of step with the people on this issue.
Third, California voters are notably not right-wing. In the same election in which Proposition 16 was defeated, California voters supported Joe Biden for president by 63% vs. 34% for Donald Trump. (source) That was similar to Vermont: 66% for Biden vs. 31% for Trump. (source) Furthermore, California voters today are more left-leaning and more diverse than in 1996. (source)
For additional perspective, see Conor Friedersdorf’s essay in The Atlantic dated November 10, 2020: Why California Rejected Racial Preferences, Again. Mr. Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He grew up in and lives in California. He writes insightfully about Proposition 16, and he explains why he voted against it.
Proposition 16 was defeated by a greater margin than Proposition 209 was passed a generation earlier, and with a larger voter turnout. With Proposition 209, California voters rejected racial and gender preferences. With Proposition 16, they said: And we meant it.