Since 1996, state universities in California have been barred from any admissions decisions that “discriminat[e] against or grant preferential treatment” to an applicant based on race or ethnicity. This past January a referendum on reversing this policy passed the state senate without controversy. Now, however, the San Jose Mercury News reports that three Asian-American state senators who originally supported the referendum—all Democrats—have asked for it be to tabled. Their request comes after broad-based opposition to the referendum from California’s Asian-American population:
The contention that affirmative action would create racial quotas in college admissions preys on Asian parents’ anxieties, said Henry Der, a former state deputy secretary of education who directed the organization Chinese Affirmative Action until the mid-1990s. “I think certain negative forces are trying to exploit it and stir up this fear,” Der saidDer said one of the culprits is Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, who argued at a packed town hall meeting in Cupertino last month that the percentage of Asian-American undergraduates across the UC system — now about 38 percent — could plummet if the ban was lifted. Der and Huff were both panelists at the meeting […]“These Chinese families are not looking at the larger picture. We are not making the investments we need in higher education,” he said. “We need to expand opportunities for all students.”
The conflict between Asian-Americans (“these Chinese families” as Der puts it) and African-Americans over affirmative action pits two key Democratic constituencies against one another. This is another aspect of the ongoing blue coalition crack-up. For our part, we think the students most qualified on academic and achievements metrics should get contested spots. If that means colleges become predominately Asian-American, so be it. In the same way, we would have been okay with a vast over-representation of American Jews when they were the dominant group out-performing the general population. But whatever you think of this issue, Democrats are going to have a difficult time trying to balance out the competing interests here going forward. It’s going to be an increasingly important story in coming months and years.