Last month I had a troubling encounter with gubernatorial candidate Pete Wilson at a breakfast meeting in Los Angeles. The meeting was designed to provide local Latino leaders an opportunity to discuss key issues with an individual who could be our next governor, and I welcomed the occasion.
In discussing the Civil Rights Act of 1990 and his opposition to the legislation, I pleaded with Wilson to urge President Bush to sign the bill. I also asked Wilson to vote to override a veto, if necessary. The fact that he refused to change his position on the legislation didn't disturb me as much as his intentions to use his stand on the bill to distort the issues and divide the people of this great state.
Wilson's assertion that the bill would promote quotas, mediocrity and opportunities for undeserving individuals indicated to me that he did not recognize or understand the effects of employment discrimination on minority communities. His further response indicated a lack of knowledge, awareness and interest about the specific concerns of Latinos.
This negative, divisive and one-sided approach to campaigning has been typical throughout the governor's race. Candidate Dianne Feinstein hasn't fared any better.
The former San Francisco mayor's early attempts at showing sensitivity to the changing demographics began when she said she would appoint women and minorities to key positions in her administration. As a woman of color, I was heartened to see she would seek out talented, resourceful individuals to create a government that included representatives from my community.
She quickly did an about-face, however, when she realized that Wilson was going to use this issue to divide rather than unite constituents. Token or sporadic attention to the needs and concerns of minorities is no longer acceptable, and this lack of commitment in addressing the real issues of this state has many of us worried.
Neither candidate has displayed the visionary leadership necessary to successfully address the complex and difficult issues facing the multicultural, multiracial population of this state. Neither candidate has demonstrated that he or she even realizes the population of the state has taken on a different hue. Neither candidate is instilling confidence in those who would be governed--specifically the minority communities--that he or she is worthy of their vote.
The changing demographics in this state tell part of the story. The latest census figures show the population of California numbers just under 30 million. Of this figure, 42% are ethnic minorities. With growth rates for Latinos and Asians expected to remain at similar or increased levels, those percentages will grow even more during the next decade.
Our next governor must establish a new form of governance that will include and involve all the people of the state. In the future, candidates won't get elected by running campaigns of exclusion and 30-second commercials while ignoring the voices and neglecting the concerns of the other half of this state.
The gubernatorial candidates have failed to address the issues of relevance to Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans. There are many of these issues, among them:
--Providing more money for schools, improving the course of study, hiring well-qualified teachers and holding on to them once they are hired.
--Addressing the questions of unemployment and underemployment of minorities and lack of economic development programs in their communities.
--Ending the exclusion of minorities from the state's political processes and increasing the effectiveness of their representation.
--Easing tensions between the various ethnic and racial groups competing for the same slice of the limited pie.
But this feeling that no one cares is not unique to minority voters. Today, the general voting public feels frustrated and disillusioned with its representatives. People are hurling unprecedented levels of criticism at politicians for what they haven't done or what they've done wrong. Some voters are threatening to "throw the bums out." Others think they'll get their message across by not voting at all.
This frustration is understandable for those who feel they have no say in their government. But think for a moment how individuals feel when they've been unrepresented not for just a few years, but for many decades. They know that no matter how often they vote for the individual they think will best represent their communities, their candidate will never win. They simply do not have the numbers or support of their neighbors. This has been the dichotomy of minority voters.
For decades, minorities have received mixed messages with regard to their participation in politics. They are told to participate, yet a history of voting discrimination, English-literacy requirements, at-large elections and gerrymandered districts has contributed to the disenfranchisement of minority communities.