Minority rules

One of the most disturbing aspects of the recall election is the undeniable possibility of minority rule. It took 3.4 million California voters to put Governor Gray Davis in office in November 2002, but it may take far fewer to oust him, and fewer still to elect his replacement. Meanwhile, a similarly small minority may decide the fate of Proposition 54 and effectively eliminate public-health programs that benefit millions.

Proposition 54, the so-called Racial Privacy Initiative that will appear on the October 7 recall ballot, would make it illegal for state agencies to collect data on race and ethnicity, which would greatly reduce the effectiveness of a variety of important state agencies. Leading the list would be public-health programs, which rely upon their ability to collect data on race and ethnicity in order to assess the impact of cultural factors and social conditions on public health.

If a certain ethnic group is found to have a higher incidence of teen pregnancy, drug addiction, tooth decay or high blood pressure, that information offers a valuable tool to the state as it attempts to address the problem. Take away the ability to gather information, and the effectiveness of these programs is reduced greatly. Proponents of Proposition 54 claim the measure would not halt the collection of crucial health data, but this assertion is disingenuous. In fact, California’s medical community is almost unanimous in its opposition to this measure.

Similarly, law-enforcement efforts to address race-related issues would be gutted. Consider the controversy about racial profiling: Many minority-group members have complained for years that law-enforcement officers target their group for harassment and arrest based upon suspect “profiles” that include race, yet the officers often insist that race isn’t a factor. Civil-rights advocates have fought for years to get police to compile statistics detailing the racial composition of their arrests, traffic stops and other contacts with the public in the hope of providing some substance to the debate. In recent years, law enforcement has begun to comply, providing invaluable insights into police practices. Proposition 54 would wipe out this progress, making it illegal for police to compile such statistics.

This measure is on the ballot because one man, Ward Connerly, wants it to be there. Best known as the sponsor of 1996’s anti-affirmative-action Proposition 209, Connerly has provided the leadership and has raised the money to put Proposition 54 on the recall ballot. Alarmingly, almost 80 percent of the $1.87 million spent to qualify the proposition came from an undisclosed list of donors to his American Civil Rights Coalition.

Proposition 54 would do a lot of harm. When the recall rolls around, just say no to Proposition 54.