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Proposition 54

September 28, 2003|Rebecca Trounson

The organized opposition to Proposition 54, a ballot initiative that would stop the state from collecting and using most racial and ethnic data, began airing its first television advertisement Friday. The 30-second commercial, featuring former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop, will air in major media markets statewide until the election. The ad is sponsored by the Coalition for an Informed California, an umbrella organization of health-care groups, educators and others opposing the initiative. The group plans to spend at least $1 million on the ad.

Title: General

Producer: Axelrod & Associates

Script: Koop, seated behind a desk, with framed degrees and awards on the wall behind him, begins speaking as the camera moves toward him. "As surgeon general, I faced many decisions affecting life and death," says Koop, wearing a dark suit, blue shirt and bow tie. "On Oct. 7th, you'll make a life-and-death decision affecting every Californian. Proposition 54 would block information that can help save lives, and it would end prevention efforts directed to those at risk for cancer, diabetes and other diseases. Over 40 health-care organizations, like the California Medical Assn. and Breast Cancer Action, agree: To save lives, vote no on 54." The names of other groups opposing the measure, including the American Cancer Society, scroll up the screen as he speaks. The ad ends with a statement that it was paid for by the No on 54 campaign, with major funding from two unions, the California Teachers Assn. and the Service Employees International Union.

Accuracy: Proposition 54 would amend the state Constitution to halt the collection and use of most racial and ethnic data by state agencies. Its potential impact, particularly on issues of public health and medicine, is hotly debated. University of California Regent Ward Connerly, its author and chief advocate, contends that an exemption for "medical research subjects and patients" is broad enough to cover all issues related to medicine and public health, and that opponents' concerns on the subject are baseless. Public health experts, however, are not reassured, saying they fear that research on pressing medical and health issues could still be harmed. The researchers say that they rely on vital statistics to understand why some groups are more at risk than others from certain illnesses and how disease spreads through various communities. Attorneys and analysts who have studied the proposition say that much about its impact is unclear and would probably have to be resolved by the courts and the Legislature if it passes.

Analysis: The ad is the first by the coalition. The ad's use of the former surgeon general as a spokesman and its focus on health care dovetails with another recent television spot opposing the proposition. The earlier ad was funded by Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is running in the replacement race for governor. In his ad, Bustamante called the proposition's effect on health care "more important than politics." Although opponents say that the measure would have negative consequences for education and law enforcement and for the monitoring of anti-discrimination programs, they believe that its potential impact on health care carries the most emotional resonance for voters.


Compiled by Times staff writer Rebecca Trounson

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