Proposition 54 Soundly Defeated in California

Californians overwhelmingly voted to fire Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in last week’s recall election, but another important conservative cause was defeated at the polls by a larger margin than expected.

Conservative activist and University of California Regent Ward Connerly’s Racial Privacy Initiative, Proposition 54 (see HUMAN EVENTS, August 15), went down 64% to 36%, despite the strong Republican performance on the governor’s ballot.

The initiative, which would have forbidden state and local government in California from categorizing citizens by race or ethnicity, failed even as Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger and State Sen. Tom McClintock combined to take over 62% of the vote in the special gubernatorial election.

The proposition won slim majorities in just four of California’s 58 counties.

Prop 54 supporters blamed the defeat on the opposition’s scare tactics and massive spending and the belief that the recall effort itself dried up conservative funds.

“Being caught up in the recall certainly limited our ability to raise funds,” said Diane Schachterle, spokeswoman for Connerly.

Schachterle pointed out that a large sum was illegally spent on advertising opposing Prop 54. A state judge in Sacramento County ruled September 22 that Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante had illegally dedicated $3.8 million to the effort against Prop 54. Bustamante had donated this money from his 2002 campaign war chest when it was determined that he could not legally use it for his own gubernatorial campaign under the state’s new campaign finance laws. Bustamante then bought advertisements that featured him personally denouncing Prop 54.

Scare Tactics

The judge ruled that Bustamante had to cancel the rest of the scheduled advertisements and recoup as much of the money as he could.

“The opposition used illegal campaign contributions and lobbying money,” said Schachterle, who claimed that pro-54 forces were outspent nearly 40 to 1.

According to records from the California Secretary of States’ office, the “Yes on 54” campaign raised only $202,000 and spent less than $75,000 on broadcast advertising for the initiative. In contrast, the “No On 54” campaign raised nearly $2 million in cash and in-kind contributions, not counting the illegal contributions by Bustamante.

Another major problem was the “No On 54” campaign’s success in playing up fears that the initiative would prevent studies of race and its relation to various health risks and diseases.

Asked whether the proposition was hurt by Schwarzenegger’s remarks during the campaign calling Prop 54 supporters “right-wing crazies,” Schachterle replied, “It certainly didn’t do any good.” However, she said, “He said very little about it, on the whole.” She conceded that Schwarzenegger’s active support “could have” helped Prop 54 succeed.

Schachterle said that a modified version of the Racial Privacy Initiative would probably return to the California ballot-in 2006 at the earliest. In the meantime, she said, Connerly will be working on an initiative in Michigan to forbid racial discrimination in college admissions. That initiative is a reaction to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed the University of Michigan to discriminate on the basis of race.

The defeat of Prop 54 ends Connerly’s unbeaten streak at the ballot box. In 1996, he successfully promoted California’s Proposition 209, which prohibited the state from using race as a factor in school admissions, state jobs and state contracts. He enjoyed success with a similar ballot measure in Washington State in 1998.