The 1994 election was a turning point for California. Pete Wilson cruised to reelection and Republicans won 40 seats in the Assembly in a year friendly for Republicans around the country. But that election sowed the seeds of the Republicans’ downfall in California, turning the state deep blue and sending the Republican Party into a death spiral.
The reason was Proposition 187. Scapegoating immigrants for economic problems is one of the most common political phenomena in California history, as the Chinese, the Japanese, the Filipinos, the Okies, and Latinos can tell you. The 1990s saw an upswing in immigrant-bashing and in 1994 a group of Orange County Republicans put on the ballot this attack on the rights of the undocumented. Prop 187 would have denied schooling, medical care and other social services to undocumented immigrants and their families.
It passed by a large margin in November 1994, but was never implemented. Courts granted injunctions against its enforcement, and in early 1999 when Gray Davis became governor, the state’s appeals to uphold the initiative were dropped.
It was a pyrrhic victory for Republicans. The anti-Latino attitudes voiced by many Prop 187 supporters drove California Latinos into the arms of the Democratic Party. Voter registration soared, and many Latino immigrants became citizens to protect their rights at the ballot box. Since the 1996 election Republican fortunes have been in terminal decline in California, a party that has become a Zombie Death Cult more interested in purity fights than addressing California’s needs.
Of course, anti-immigrant sentiment never really went away after 1994. By 2003 it had returned and played a role in Davis’ recall, as the recession led to renewed immigrant-bashing and Arnold Schwarzenegger ran on the “driver’s licenses” issue. Still, Arnold had little appetite for actually pushing anti-immigrant legislation while governor, and somewhat surprisingly, the anti-immigrant movement never tried to go to the ballot to revive Prop 187 or otherwise target the undocumented.
Right-wingers have in circulation an initiative to raise Prop 187 from the dead:
Requires applicants for state, local, and state-administered federal aid to verify lawful presence in United States. Requires applications for public benefits submitted by undocumented parents on behalf of their lawful-resident children to be given to federal authorities. Denies birth certificates to children born to undocumented parents unless mother provides fingerprint and other information to be given to federal authorities. Limits benefits for children in child-only CalWORKS cases to federal minimum. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: If upheld in the courts, unknown potential one-time and ongoing costs to state and local governments due to changes in the application process for public benefits as well as changes in the way birth certificates are issued. These costs would be partly offset by additional new fees for certain birth certificates. Unknown, but probably minor, state and local law enforcement costs due to provisions in the measure creating new crimes, such as for the filing of false affidavits to obtain public benefits. If upheld in the courts, state savings of over $1 billion annually from prohibiting child-only CalWORKs cases, partially offset by state and county costs for children who shifted to Foster Care or county general assistance programs. Further unknown savings from the provisions changing the application processes for public benefits. (09-0004.)
This is not just a revival of Prop 187, of course – it goes after CalWORKS as well, an effort to scale back the safety net couched in an attack on the children of the undocumented. This is an especially sick and unconscionable attack on Californians in a time of crisis, especially the deliberate targeting of children in order to cause them pain and suffering.
Obviously this is part of the Republicans’ 2010 election strategy. Despite the fact that earlier efforts in 2006 to ride anti-immigrant sentiment to victory failed spectacularly for Republicans, and despite the massive political price they paid after 1994 for backing Prop 187, they are at it again.
And although we’d like to think that Californians would reject this kind of horrific attack on our neighbors and community members, the wide margin of victory for Prop 187 in 1994, the passage of Prop 8 last fall, and the long history of immigrant scapegoating in California suggests to me that these have a very high chance of passage.
Progressives and Democrats will have to start organizing NOW to fight this, starting with a “do not sign” campaign.
And in a related move, George Runner has an initiative in circulation to mandate voters bring a photo ID to the polls. This maneuver has been used by Republicans to suppress the vote in several other states, including Georgia, and is of dubious constitutionality. I include it here because Runner is almost certainly going to sell this as a crackdown on the undocumented, who don’t have that kind of photo ID.
Republicans nationally and here in California appear determined to treat 2010 like 1994. Progressives and Democrats need to be ready to fight back.