The Politics of Race: The Views of Potential Candidates

Here are the potential candidates for governor and U.S. senator in 1998 and their views on the state of race relations in California. Each was asked to specify their position on Proposition 187, the 1994 measure aimed at barring illegal immigrants from receiving state services, and Proposition 209, the 1996 measure that eliminated affirmative action based on race or gender in government hiring, contracting and education. In addition, each was asked for their position on a proposed 1998 ballot measure to greatly restrict bilingual education in California public schools.


Attorney General Dan Lungren, Republican:

Supported Propositions 187 and 209; no position yet on the proposed bilingual education measure.

“To me the big challenge in race relations is how do we improve our education opportunities to give more people the chance for academic advancement, which I think is the key to economic advancement. My dream would be to have an administration that without quotas and set-asides reflects what California looks like, but by achievement rather than by some sort of artifice. The only way I can start to do that is to show that I have an openness to those communities and suggest that I don’t have to be a phony and change my principles to show a greater sensitivity.”

Businessman Al Checchi, Democrat:

Opposed Proposition 187, but did not vote in that election; opposed Proposition 209; agrees “with the objective” of bilingual education measure, but opposes details.

“I have a fundamental belief that as society becomes more complex, we become more interdependent, not independent, and the job of a leader is to help people understand the commonality of their interests and their mutual dependence. Wedges have been driven along racial lines. They have been driven along ethnic lines, and they have been driven along income levels. As long as we divide our people and as long as we divide our resources in a way that we don’t serve the needs of those who are emerging and seeking a better life for themselves, we’ll continue to be a house divided.” Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, Democrat: Opposed Propositions 187 and 209; no official position on bilingual education measure, but is fashioning an alternative.

“The governor’s job is not to remind us why we might not like another group, but to convince all Californians we can succeed by cooperating. A governor who understands that knowledge of a foreign language is step one to establishing good trading relationships can focus Californians on the positive, rather than the negative, aspects of diversity. I can’t change what’s in people’s heart, but I can certainly avoid fanning the flames of bigotry and focus people in a positive direction.”

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat:

Opposed Propositions 187 and 209; says bilingual education “is not working,” but has no position on the proposed ballot measure.

“These kinds of wedge issues have typified state politics in California and I think the residue of that is one of bitterness and some degree of shame because real problem solving doesn’t take place.” The next governor, she said, needs “to stress our similarities of belief, of culture, of values, rather than our differences, and be able to cement in common those truths which make up Americans and see that the values that we share — the difference between right and wrong, the value of family, the value of education — are similarly shared by all parts of our population.”

State Sen. John Vasconcellos, Democrat:

Opposed Propositions 187 and 209; opposes bilingual education measure.

“The first thing I’d do is put (improved race relations) on the agenda. The inaugural address ought to feature that as the number one challenge because that informs everything else we do in our capacity to heal the rifts in society and develop everyone’s talent. You practice it. The governor ought to be personally inclined toward being in the middle of situations that show the diversity of California and show his or her comfort within that. Were I governor I’d be with the high and mighty and with those who aren’t and be seen being there. You set a practice that sets the tone.”


U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, incumbent Democrat:

Opposed Propositions 187 and 209; opposes bilingual education measure.

“What leaders have to do is not push divisive ideas constantly. The first thing we have to do is dedicate the first 10 years of the next century to our children. That means that every single child, wherever that child comes from, whatever their religion, has all the opportunity to be a success. If we do that right, I do think these problems will be eliminated. I don’t believe in preferences. I believe you have to have qualifications and then you look at everything else the person brings to the table and you make a decision whether that would benefit the school or the work place.”

State Treasurer Matt Fong, Republican:

No position on Proposition 187; supported Proposition 209 and will support proposed bilingual education measure.

“Today we have a few racists, but I think we’ve gone far past what I consider a racist society. If somebody is denied opportunity today, it quite often has less to do with ethnicity and more to do with their ability to handle the skills that are needed. We have to do a better job with every child.” He would promote “affirmative opportunity” to give preferences to small businesses. “One of the biggest abuses of affirmative action was the ones who got the contracts weren’t the ones who needed help.”

San Diego Mayor Susan Golding, Republican:

Opposed Proposition 187; supported Proposition 209; supports bilingual education measure.

Political leaders “have an obligation not to make the relationship between the races worse. A total focus on race is wrong. That doesn’t mean we ignore it — it is ever present.” She said importance of diversity should be emphasized when children are in school. “You can’t change the way human beings feel or force them to get along with one another by focusing on their differences. A government program is not going to get rid of human beings’ emotions, whether it’s good or bad. Those of us in a position of influence need to contribute to a rational discussion.”

Businessman Darrell Issa, Republican:

Supported Proposition 187; was co-chairman of the Proposition 209 campaign; supports proposed bilingual education measure.

“I think race relations are at a relatively low point. The Jesse Jackson’s of the world made it more divisive then it already would have been, and now we’re in a period of consolidation and healing. It’s those of us who (supported) the 187s and the 209s and very much (the bilingual education measure who) have an obligation to use our bully pulpit to talk about it being a healing time, to talk about solutions that will bring us together closer as one nation. I refuse to see race. I will see problems in society and I will be part of fixing them, but I won’t pander to any one group.”

Source: Bee interviews

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