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Californians Split on Constitutional Reform

New America Media, News Report, Edwin Okong'o Posted: Oct 31, 2009

SACRAMENTO, Calif. Latinos and Asian Americans are less dissatisfied with the process of putting initiatives on the ballot and are less eager to change California's constitution to restrict direct democracy than whites and African-Americans, says a poll from the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University.

Presenting poll findings recently at a conference about reforming Californias constitution held at the Sacramento Convention Center, Tammy Frisby, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, said the poll showed differences between what she called the fast-growing new California voters and the shrinking old California voters.

There is an interesting divide in what we term new California and old California, said Frisby. What we mean by that is that the traditionally largest groups of the California population whites and African Americans have different views than new Californians, that is the fastest growing segment of our population, Latinos and Asian Americans.

Frisby said the poll found that new Californians were not as pessimistic about the direction of the state. Only 57 percent of Latinos and Asian Americans thought the state was moving in the wrong direction, compared to 64 percent of whites and African Americans. Latinos and Asians were also more likely to say that they were not dissatisfied with the initiative process.

But there was concern from some attendees that because the poll of about 1,000 Californians was conducted in English only and via the Internet, the sample did not accurately represent California.

Where are the Latinos? one man asked.

Mark DiCamillo, the director of the Field Poll, said it was difficult to find funding for multilingual polls. DiCamillo said Field and New America Media were proposing to poll non-English speaking California voters in 2010. The polls would be conducted in some Asian languages and would over-sample certain Asian populations, such as Chinese and Vietnamese voters, DiCamillo said.

We recognize the growing importance of the diversity of California and wed like to measure it and bring a little more clarity and provide [ethnic media] reporters across the states with information particular to their communities, DiCamillo said.

Frisby agreed that getting opinions from people in ethnic communities was a challenge.

Everyone is really, really hungry for it, she said. The high level of uncertainty among Asian Americans could be due to some language issues. I think it would be reasonable to say that there are language barriers.

Frisby said anyone thinking about having ethnic communities involved in the process should think about the media people from those communities access. 

As those agents of reform debate how to reach out to people in this campaign, you're going to have to think about using the new media in a new way, certainly exploring whats going on out there in the different kinds of media that old and new California are accessing, Frisby said.

During a session about the history of California constitutional reform, Amy Bridges, a political science professor and adjunct professor of history at UC San Diego, asked constitutional reform advocates to be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past in California and elsewhere.

In every constitution I have read, there is workers resentment of the Chinese there was a desire to control issues of Chinese employment, Bridges said. In Arizona, there was much more resentment of and a desire for prohibition of Mexicans because Mexicans from Sonora County were very able miners.

She said most of the conventions worked out some compromises around these issues. None of the conventions enacted provisions against hiring Mexicans.

We, of course, passed many anti-Chinese provisions, all of which were found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court not our highest moment, Bridges said. We had more Chinese residents than other states thats probably part of it.

Albert Fong, 66, is the son of Chinese immigrants and one of the few people of color at the convention. Fong, a 30-year employee of the U.S. Postal Service, said immigrants tend to stay away from politics, sometimes because of experiences in their home country.

Fong said he regretted not having been interested in politics earlier. But he said he was on several e-mail lists, including the Institute of California Studies at Sacramento State, one of the organizers of the conference.

I seek it out, Fong said. I keep abreast with things that have to do with governance, because that goes back to what were gonna get. We are the ones who suffer from whatever policy they implement. 

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