Report: California Lawmakers Fail to Bridge Racial Divide

By Andre Banks, ColorLines
Friday November 17, 2006

Partisan politics is standing in the way of progress in California, according to new research released this week on the heels of startling Census numbers showing a deepening racial divide. 

Data released Nov. 14 by the U.S. Census Bureau documents a persistent and deepening racial divide nationwide and in California. White households had incomes that were two-thirds higher than Blacks and 40 percent higher than Hispanics last year. Whites are also more likely to attend college and less likely to live in poverty. 

“The new census data shows that race matters in California and throughout the nation. As our population grows, we need a plan for addressing the changing needs of our diverse state,” said Menachem Krajcer, senior policy analyst at the Applied Research Center. “Bitter partisan politics and budget restraints are crippling long overdue reforms in health and education.” 

Evaluated in this context, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state legislature have done little to provide solutions for disparities in health, education, income and other key indicators of racial inequity, according to Krajcer, who authored the report “Facing Race: California Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity 2006.” 

The legislature scored a “C-” and Schwarzenegger a “D” in the report card evaluation. 

As evidence of California’s crippling partisanship, Kracjer points out that only two Republicans received passing grades on racial equity in California while in Illinois, where a similar study was conducted, only three Republican legislators failed. 

This year, Illinois also passed universal health care for children, a bill which died in California. 

Schwarzenegger vetoed a total of nine bills that would have benefited low-income people of color and immigrants, including legislation providing statewide single-payer healthcare, fair practices in standardized testing for English learners, and wage protections for domestic workers such as live-in nannies and homecare providers. 

Of the 20 bills addressing racial equity that actually passed in California, 12 originated in the assembly. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez received an A for 100 percent support, while Senate Pro Tem Don Perata received a C for 70 percent support, for failure to vote on six racial equity bills. 

The higher the racial diversity of a legislative district, the higher the support for racial equity. Average scores for districts with 75 percent or more people of color were 99 percent in the assembly and 95 percent in the senate. On average, districts with white majorities voted for racial equity 44 percent of the time in the assembly and 43 percent of the time in the senate. 

According to the report, the limited success of the legislature was overshadowed by striking missed opportunities; key legislation to address structural racism stalled in the legislature or was vetoed by the governor. 

“While racial disparities are pervasive in California, they need not be permanent. California must begin facing race,” said Tammy Johnson, policy director at the Applied Research Center, which also released reports on racial equity in Minnesota and Illinois. 

“Strategies to advance racial equity, like providing healthcare for our kids and increasing access to college, already exist. Our elected leaders must overcome partisan squabbles and build the political will necessary to make them real.”