Bid to Halt Racial Surveying in State Gains Momentum

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UC Regent Ward Connerly's effort to end race-based classification in California has support from about half the voting population in the state, according to a recent field poll.

The poll reports that 48 percent of those polled in the non-partisan survey of 546 likely voters support the Racial Privacy Initiative. Half of whites and half of Latinos polled support the proposition, as well as 42 percent of African Americans and 35 percent of Asians and other voters.

The potential November ballot initiative would prevent state and local governments from collecting race-based information for employment or school admission purposes, with a few exceptions.

Under the initiative, UC applicants would no longer include race information on their applications. Federal law, however, would require the information be turned over to the university before students enroll in courses.

The initiative was first slated to appear on the March primary ballot but was then pushed back to November.

Though some proponents of the initiative believe the measure will end so-called back-door affirmative action in California, Connerly said that is not the reason the initiative was drafted.

"Right now the state has 75 percent compliance with prop 209," Connerly said. "I would not go to the effort of bringing an initiative to get the other 25 percent. There is a moral question involved. It is almost a dark-aged mentality that we are going to classify people on the basis of race."

Connerly said the information collected by the race surveys conducted by the state is often "misleading," "increasingly meaningless" and not in tune with the rapidly-changing demographic makeup of California.

Darren Zook, a political science lecturer at UC Berkeley, said he agrees the race questionnaire typically administered by the state does not accurately collect race information.

"The (racial) survey is so silly," Zook said. "I find myself locked into a category. All race-based programs need to be reformed rather than eliminated in such a way that brings ethnic groups together rather than divides them."

But Bruce Cain, a UC Berkeley political science professor, said the initiative is a symbolic "poke in the eye" to minority communities and the government surveys would only be replaced by more surveys conducted by the private sector.

He said the race information gathered by the state helps evaluate diseases or medical problems, prevent racial profiling and allow officials to document the general growth of the state.

Cain also said Connerly has created a political hot potato that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans want.

"The Republican party doesn't really want this problem," Cain said. "They basically want to mend fences with the Latino community. The Republicans cannot afford to alienate the Latino community because they are going to be a major voting bloc in this community."

According to the poll, however, the initiative received 58 percent of Republican support, while 43 percent of registered Democrats expressed their support.

If the initiative is placed on the ballot in November, it could create a dilemma for Gov. Gray Davis.

"Its going to be a tough decision for Gov. Gray Davis because he risks alienating a large portion of his supporters no matter which position he takes," said Kevin Nguyen, a spokesperson for the initiative.

Although the initiative has collected 980,000 signatures, names must be verified by June 24 for it to be considered for the upcoming elections.

Nguyen said if the initiative is not placed on the November ballot, proponents hope to see it on the March 2004 ballot, which would give them enough time to "rebuild (their) campaigning war chest" and garner more support.


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