Latino Legislators: Vengeance Shall be Ours


From the L.A. Times:

Latino lawmakers move to reverse decades of anti-immigrant legislation

For Sen. Ricardo Lara, whose parents were not legal residents, Prop. 187 felt like a “blatant, direct attack” on his family and those like them. (Katie Falkenberg, Los Angeles Times)

by MELANIE MASON, PATRICK MCGREEVY

Newly empowered Latino lawmakers look to reverse anti-immigrant laws

Prop. 187 withholds public services from people in the U.S. illegally

Prop. 209 bars affirmative action for college admissions, public hiring

SACRAMENTO — Two decades after California voters took a hard line on illegal immigration, affirmative action and bilingual education, an ascendant class of Latino lawmakers is seeking to rewrite the books and discard the polarizing laws.

Some things are diverse, which is good, while other things are divisive, which is bad. How are you supposed to know? You can just tell.

Seriously, as somebody who can vaguely recall the Sixties, I’m perpetually weirded out by how what Sixties People would deride as “conformism” is now preached as the highest value.

Flexing its growing clout in Sacramento, this generation of legislators is returning to the 1990s-era fights that propelled them into politics. On Monday, they will mark 20 years since Proposition 187 — the landmark initiative withholding public services such as healthcare and education from those in the country illegally — qualified for the ballot.

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Latino Legislative Caucus, said there is a satisfying “full circle” feel in revisiting these formative struggles with Latinos now empowered.

But others say the legislators are falling back on yesterday’s battles for use as a political cudgel — a move that could risk alienating other voters.

Even two decades later, the feelings about Proposition 187 remain raw.

The measure barred healthcare, education and other public services for people in the country illegally. It required doctors, teachers and others to report suspected violators of immigration laws.

For Lara, whose parents were not legal residents, the proposal felt like a “blatant, direct attack” on his family and those like them.

Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who led the campaign for Proposition 187, bristled at descriptions of the initiative as xenophobic and racist.

“They are playing the race card and trying to intimidate people who had the spunk and the logic to protest against Washington, D.C., and Mexico City, who had been quite content to allow state taxpayers to be stuck with the cost of federally mandated services to illegal immigrants,” Wilson said in an interview. “Frankly, it’s beneath contempt.”

The measure — largely struck down as unconstitutional — was approved by 59% of voters in 1994. But its passage led to a surge of voter registration and political advocacy among Latinos.

Except that the evidence for this conventional wisdom is scanty.

For example, after the GOP won the Electoral Votes of California nine out of ten times from 1952-1988, Bill Clinton beat George H.W. Bush in California in 1992, two years before Proposition 187, by 46.0% to 32.6% (+41.1%). Nationally, Clinton won 43.0% to 37.5% (+14.7%). In 1996, two years after Proposition 187 worked its toxic effect, Clinton beat Bob Dole 51.1% to 38.2% (+33.8%) in California v. 49.2% v 40.7% (+18.0%) nationally.

So, relative to the country, Bill Clinton performed 10.0% worse California in 1996 than in 1992.

In the 20 years since, Latinos have become the largest ethnic group in the state, and their share of the electorate has doubled. So has the number of Latinos in the Legislature.

“It was 187 — I cannot overemphasize — that unified the community,” said Antonia Hernández, former leader of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a civil rights group.

The measure also bound Latinos to the Democratic Party.

Is there any evidence that California Latinos weren’t highly Democratic before 1994? The two national exit polls showed Clinton winning the Hispanic vote in 1992 61-25 and 63-23. In 1992, most Latino voters were either in California or Texas, so Clinton probably enjoyed even bigger margins in California than he did nationally because Bush was a Texan

Here’s a paper on the 1992 election among Hispanics in California. It finds that in precincts that were at least 80% Hispanic according to the 1990 Census, Clinton beat Bush 82-5.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the “mean-spirited, cynical ploy” by Republicans to push the initiative ultimately backfired.

Villaraigosa was shocked, shocked by mean-spirited, cynical politics.

“That created a generation of Democrats,” he said.

Two years later, voters approved Proposition 209, which barred affirmative action for college admissions and public hiring decisions. And in 1998, Proposition 227, an initiative that effectively banned bilingual education in public schools, passed with 61% of the vote.

“It was a litany. It didn’t let up,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), of the successive measures. “lt just became not OK, in the eyes of far too many Californians, to even be Latino.”

This is what I’ve been saying for a long time: our views of acceptable political discourse are getting narrower, dumber, and more racialized. Less and less is about objective principles and more and more is about who do you like? Heck, elites are frustrated that Latino youths keep getting distracted by all the awesome summer blockbuster movies from acting out the racial rage they must be feeling.

And yet, Latinos don’t seem to be getting richer from this carefully nurtured kabuki theater of racial resentment. After 2008, Latinos in the U.S. are pretty broke on average. Instead, guys like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg try to cultivate the racialism of the (ever) growing Latino electoral tidal wave in order to get more cheap labor Indian programmers to add to their billions.

It’s bizarre when you think about it, so nobody thinks about it.

Gonzalez, like Lara, was a college student when Proposition 187 was on the ballot; both attended campus rallies against it. Sen. Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles), the incoming Senate leader, was a lead organizer of a massive downtown Los Angeles rally in the fall of 1994.

1994: Nothing plays on the mystic chords of memory of American voters more than a sea of Mexican flags in downtown L.A.

That went over well.

“I cut my teeth politically organizing immigrants,” De León said.

Now De León is pushing a bill to strip much of the language of Proposition 187 from statute. The bulk of the law was overturned by a federal court, but references to it remain in the state code. …

It is time, he said, “to erase its stain from our books.” …

In addition, a measure by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) would repeal parts of Proposition 209 in order to allow race-conscious college admissions. And Lara is seeking to undo and amend portions of Proposition 227 in order to expand access to multilingual educational programs. Both bills, should they pass the Legislature, would need to be approved by voters in 2016….

But revisiting these issues is not without peril for Democrats. Hernandez’s measure provoked a backlash this year among some Asian Americans who feared that their community could lose college admission slots if affirmative action was allowed. Lara acknowledges that Latino Democrats were caught “flat-footed” by the outcry.

“It was a very sobering moment,” said Antonia Hernández, now president of the philanthropic group California Community Foundation. She blamed complacency in outreach to Asians and other groups.

The misstep prompted questions of overreach.

Ward Connerly, a former UC regent who backed Proposition 209, said he thinks efforts to repeal portions of it will backfire. ”Our side will argue they are opening the door to discrimination,” he said. “And racial discrimination is abhorrent to most Californians.”