A debate about affirmative action has emerged in the campaign for governor, threatening to inject a potentially volatile racial element into the 2018 contest after the issue divided California Democrats along ethnic lines three years ago.
The question of whether race should be considered in admissions to California’s colleges and universities was raised in recent weeks when the state’s Latino and black legislative caucuses sent a letter to the top six gubernatorial candidates.
Legislators polled the politicians about their views on affirmative action and track records on diversity efforts, and asked them to detail proposals to diversify colleges and state government that they would pursue if elected governor. The candidates were also asked about efforts they would undertake to help diversify leadership in the private sector, where they have no official control.
For California political observers, the questionnaire recalls a 2014 move by Latino and black lawmakers to repeal Proposition 209, which voters approved in 1996 to ban affirmative action in university admissions.
The effort met unexpected resistance. After the measure to lift the ban quietly won Senate approval, it caught the attention of Asian American activists who said their children would be harmed if affirmative action was reinstated. On social media networks, some argued that their children had to perform better than students of other races to be admitted at elite universities, a situation that would be aggravated if the ban was rescinded.
In response to the concerns, Asian American state senators who supported the measure expressed new reservations, and others in the state Assembly vowed to oppose it, leading then-Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez to shelve it.
But tensions lingered. Several Latino and black lawmakers withdrew their endorsements of then-state Sen. Ted Lieu to succeed retiring Rep. Henry Waxman when the Torrance Democrat backed off his…