Californians to vote on racial, gender preference programs

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Copyright 1996 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Oct. 27, 1996 file photo, the Rev. Jesse Jackson asks a crowd for donations to the advertising fund to stop Proposition 209 during a rally in the Westwood section of Los Angeles. Jackson was at the rally to speak out against the proposition, which he said would hurt women and people of color. In November 2020, a California with vastly different political preferences and demographics will consider repealing a 1996 law barring state and local governments from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to people based on race, ethnicity, national origin or sex. (AP Photo/Rene Macura, File)

SAN FRANCISCO – A California with vastly different political preferences and demographics is voting on whether to allow affirmative action in public hiring, contracting and college admissions — nearly a quarter century after voters outlawed programs that give preference based on race and gender.

If approved, Proposition 16 would repeal a 1996 initiative that made it unlawful for California's state and local governments to discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to people based on race, ethnicity, national origin or sex. Then-Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, championed the measure as part of his conservative bid for the presidency.

The California of 2020 is less Republican and more diverse than it was 24 years ago, with Latinos making up 39% of the population in a state where no group holds a majority.

Still, the repeal might not have made the ballot if not for the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd while handcuffed by police in Minneapolis. Voters' decision will test support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat and chairwoman of the California Legislative Black Caucus, is the lead author of the legislation that put the question to voters, which required two-thirds support in both houses of the state Legislature.

“I think the death of George Floyd made racism very real for people; they could see it. And now what I was asking them to do was to act on it, stop telling me how horrible it is, stop telling me that you really didn't know that, stop telling me that this is such a revelation for you," Weber said.

She added: “Now the question becomes, what are you going to do about it?"

Early voting begins Monday for the Nov. 3 election.