As an adjective, “affirmative” means being supportive, hopeful or encouraging. It indicates an intent, an aspiration. But when connected to the word “action” in the phrase “affirmative action,” it elicits passionate responses for and against.

Affirmative action programs evolved from earlier programs that tried to remedy the effects of racism and sexism as it related to full and fair participation in government hiring, contracting and college admissions. Those earlier programs were called “equal opportunity” programs or EOP.

Equal opportunity programs were the government’s attempt to address the issues raised by the demands for equal rights for all people. EOP did not demand any concrete action or results. It just provided a “chance,” an opportunity.

Both sets of programs used race, ethnicity and gender in decisions related to government programs as described above. In California, EOP met its demise by way of passive-aggressive opposition within said public institutions and the old standby, budget cuts. The once robust equal opportunity programs have withered away to mere existence where they still exist.

Affirmative action programs in California were totally prohibited by the passage of Prop 209 in 1996. The so-called California Civil Rights Initiative amended the state constitution to prohibit state governmental institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity, specifically in the areas of public employment, public contracting, and public education.

Proposition 16 on the Nov. 3 ballot resurrects the debate on equal opportunity and affirmation action in California. Emotions are already starting to run high, but let’s look at the actual proposition.

The official title and summary PREPARED BY THE ATTORNEY GENERAL Permits government decision-making policies to consider race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin to address diversity by repealing Article I, Section 31, of the California Constitution, which was added by Proposition 209 in 1996.\

Basically Proposition 16 repeals Proposition 209. It doesn’t institute or establish any programs. Prop 16 only allows the consideration of race, sex, color (not sure what this means), ethnicity and national origin in decision-making relative to governmental policy.

“Consider” is a benign word that only means to think carefully about something. There are no expectations, no conclusions drawn, only permission to consider the factors listed in the proposition.

Also, Prop 209 does not establish any quotas. Quotas were determined unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Bakke decision in 1978. It doesn’t even establish or outline any goals.

Consequently, it’s a restart of the discussion about how to level the playing field as it relates to hiring, awarding government contracts for goods and services, and admission to state colleges and universities. It’s an opportunity to reconcile any issues where discrimination can be proven to have limited access. Then creative solutions in the context of the 21st century can be developed to remedy and redress them.

Also, if Prop 16 prevails, I guarantee that any governmental programs that consider race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in hiring efforts, awarding contracts, or public college admissions will be legally challenged at every turn.

Let’s get to work on making fairness and diversity basic characteristics of all things California. Vote YES on Proposition 16.


Warren Furutani has served on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, on the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, and in the California State Assembly. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.


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