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ELECTION RECOMMENDATION

No on Race Data Ban

September 15, 2003

Proposition 54 seeks to amend the California Constitution to prohibit the state and other public bodies -- including local governments, colleges and universities -- from classifying individuals and collecting information on them by race, ethnicity, color or national origin. In an ideal world, this might be a good thing. But in practical terms, this ballot initiative would undermine equal education, public health and civil rights protections.

A legion of individuals and institutions opposes this measure, promoted by Ward Connerly, the campaign chairman of a previous statewide initiative on affirmative action. Opponents include law enforcement agencies, civil rights groups, teachers, the California Medical Assn., public health researchers, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and the League of Women Voters.

Law enforcement officials fear the measure would constrain them in halting the odious practice of racial profiling. It would make it harder for them to track and prosecute hate crimes and to diversify their own ranks to better reflect society. Civil rights groups say the measure would make it impossible to track hate crimes and enforce anti-discrimination efforts. Teachers argue that it would harm school accountability efforts, barring educators from studying gaps in achievement between racial and ethnic groups.

Health-care researchers oppose Proposition 54, contending that it would make disease tougher to track, treat and prevent. Race is important in medical care, they emphasize. Native Americans and Latinos, for example, suffer higher rates of diabetes than do African Americans and whites. African American women are more likely to suffer more aggressive forms of breast cancer than white women. Researchers have identified broad differences in ways that whites and blacks respond to certain medications.

Connerly dismisses anti-Proposition 54 arguments, calling for a race-blind world. His initiative, however, lacks clarity and would only confuse the issue of what kind of race-related data the government can deal with. The federal government requires much of it, and his initiative wouldn't change this. But the legislative analyst's office notes, "It is unclear under the measure whether state and local agencies could continue to use the race-related components of this [federal] information for evaluation, program and reporting purposes."

California is not a colorblind utopia. As imperfect as the system to collect data on color, race, ethnicity, gender and national origin is, Californians extract more benefits from having it than they would gain from abolishing it in ham-handed fashion. That's why they should cast a "no" vote on Proposition 54 on Oct. 7.

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