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Danny Feingold, publisher of Capitol & Main, explains why voters in California should right civil wrongs by voting for Proposition 15, 16, and 21.
Proposition 15 would make amends for one of the most far-reaching ballot measures in American history — 1978’s era-defining Prop. 13. With its landslide passage, Prop. 13 not only upended California’s revenue stream for public education, it ushered in a taxpayer revolt that spread to cities and states across the country. In the rush to lower property taxes, California crippled one of the best K–12 public education systems in the nation while also starving local government of the funds needed for a host of essential programs.
How many libraries in poor communities closed for lack of funds, eliminating a critical refuge for both children and adults? How many programs had to turn away those in need, day after day, year after year, while frozen-in-place commercial property taxes padded the coffers of mega-land owners.
Like Prop. 15, Prop. 16 — which seeks to overturn California’s ban on considering race, sex or ethnicity in public employment, contracting and education — is politics as redemption. It speaks to our current reckoning with the persistence of racism, and our willful delusion that systemic discrimination is a thing of the past.
California’s passage of Prop. 209, in 1996, outlawed the use of affirmative action by state government, effectively pulling the rug out from under a generation of people of color. The passage by voters of Prop. 209 was undergirded by a patently false narrative: that affirmative action was no longer needed to combat racial bias, and furthermore, that it amounted to reverse discrimination.
The lie that buttressed Prop. 209 was quickly revealed: Black enrollment at state universities plummeted, while women- and minority-owned businesses lost hundreds of millions of dollars in potential contracts. In the nearly 25 years since the measure was enacted, economic inequality in California has steadily risen, with disproportionate impacts on populations that were targeted by Prop. 209. In our rush to pretend that entrenched racism had been eliminated, more damage was inflicted on people of color, with impacts that are impossible to fully calculate.