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Foes Say Governor Targets Minorities

Schwarzenegger's ballot measures would weaken the power of blacks and Latinos, critics contend.

October 27, 2005|Lisa Richardson | Times Staff Writer

Invoking the memory of Rosa Parks, a coalition of African American clergy, labor leaders and community activists cast Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposition campaign as an attempt to curb the power of black and brown people by weakening unions and altering the way electoral districts are drawn.

Several of the propositions on the Nov. 8 ballot would have the greatest effect on unions and neighborhoods with large minority constituencies, according to activists gathered Tuesday night at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

"The public sector worker is the backbone, the heart and soul of the middle class," said Martin Ludlow, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. "This is an attack on the civil rights gains we have won over the last four decades."

Speakers from the California Teachers Assn., the NAACP and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said Proposition 77, which would erase legislators' ability to draw their own districts, could disenfranchise minorities by putting them in districts in which their voting power would be diluted. Ernest Smith of the Los Angeles NAACP recalled that in the 1950s, South Los Angeles was represented by a congressman, James Roosevelt, who lived in Beverly Hills. Several younger members of the audience laughed in disbelief.

Before an audience of about 150, sprinkled with union members, speakers framed the election as a struggle of ordinary people against an out-of-touch governor. For example, they said, the initiative making it more difficult for teachers to get tenure ignores the more serious problem in urban districts: that students do not have enough textbooks and supplies.

"The first organized labor act," said the Rev. William Campbell of Mt. Gilead Baptist Church, was when "God raised up Moses to confront Pharaoh. And then he had that same Moses lead the children of Israel in a labor walkout!"

The governor did have some firm, if less vocal supporters, and several people left angry at the lack of diverse views on the panel. Tamon Pearson, 35, said he had hoped to hear the propositions debated. Instead he got "pseudo-preaching" on a soapbox, he said. "I think it's disingenuous to present only one side," he said, adding that the days when preachers could tell people how to vote are long past.

Pearson, who works in the Los Angeles County auditor-controller's office, said he planned to vote for all of the propositions pushed by the governor.

Shirley Husar, who drove from Palmdale for the event, agreed. Husar, 40, also supports those propositions. "I'm totally disappointed in the quality of this panel," she said.

But if the audience was of varying opinions, the leadership was united.

The Alliance for a Better California has had an average of 123 volunteers each Saturday for the last six weekends, knocking on doors in South L.A., and clergy members, community activists and residents vowed to join them. Minister Tony Muhammad, who attended, said the Nation of Islam would join the campaign and work to bring more young people on board.

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