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Will new Racial Equity Commission help reveal the realities of the damages of Proposition 209?

Governor Newsom appoints leaders to Racial Equity Commission to address structural racism

By ONME News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to establish the states first Racial Equity Commission developed in partnership with then-Senator Dr. Richard Pan and racial equity organizations that sponsored SB 17. The Governor in partnership with the Legislature has invested $3.8 million in the general fund in 2023-24, and $3.1 million in 2024-25 through 2029-30, to support the Racial Equity Commission and Youth Empowerment Commission.

The purpose of the commission is to recommend tools and opportunities to advance racial equity and address structural racism, and provide technical assistance to state and local governments.

In November of 1996, California voters passed Proposition 209 with 55% in favor to 45% opposed, banning race and gender as factors in state university admissions, as well as hiring and contracting. Upon approval, it amended the state constitution to prohibit state governmental institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity, specifically in the areas of public employment, public contracting, and public education. It was the first electoral test of affirmative action policies in North America. The initiative was opposed by affirmative action advocates and traditional civil rights and feminist organizations on the left side of the political spectrum.

The political campaign to place the language of CCRI on the California ballot as a constitutional amendment was initiated by Joe Gelman (president of the Board of Civil Service Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles), Arnold Steinberg (a pollster and political strategist) and Larry Arnn (president of the Claremont Institute). It was later endorsed by Governor Pete Wilson and supported and funded by the California Civil Rights Initiative Campaign, led by University of CaliforniaRegentWard Connerly, a Wilson ally. A key co-chair of the campaign was law professor Gail Heriot, who served as a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

Although the authors of Prop. 209 were taking a long shot at equal justice, hoping that the bill and new law would give everyone equal access, no matter their gender or color, the authors were naive not to consider structural racism already a part of state governmental systems nationwide.

Proposition 209 has been the subject of many lawsuits in state courts since its passage but has withstood legal scrutiny over the years.

However data from studies show the negative impact of Proposition 209 on minority contracting--Minority and women business enterprises (MWBEs),--in the state of California since the law went into effect. Proposition 209 not only ended race-conscious programs in California, it unnecessarily ended the collection of procurement data related to race, ethnicity, and gender in most jurisdictions of California that had previously been collecting that data, according to 2015 report, The Impact of Proposition 209 on California’s MWBEs. Therefore, it was only possible to state the potential loss of contract dollars due to Proposition 209 and not the actual dollars lost, the report continued. A major impact was in the public procurement process of the State of California as well as local government regarding MWBEs, which had been erasing the disparity between their availability and their utilization, although they were heavily impacted. Some never recovered. The 2015 report stated that the largest loss in contracts for MWBEs was up to $823 million each year since Proposition 209 had been put into law in 1996.

From the California Reparation Task Force to now the Racial Equity Commission, Newsom is the first 21st century California governor to set a precedent in recognizing how such racial disparities have ravaged California minority businesses, residents and educational systems for decades, attempting to counteract the detrimental effects of Prop 209.

Meanwhile, Newsom is moving forward with the Racial Equity Commission, starting with key appointments.

“At this moment of national reckoning on racial justice, I’m proud to appoint these diverse leaders to advise our ongoing work to ensure that all our communities have a fair shot at achieving the California dream,” said Governor Newsom.

The Governor announced the appointment of Dr. Larissa Estes as Executive Director of the Racial Equity Commission, and named seven members to serve on the Commission:

Dr. Larissa Estes, of Walnut Creek, has been director of ALL IN Alameda County since 2019. She was the manager of Community Partnerships with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals from 2018 to 2019. Dr. Estes was a program manager at the Prevention Institute from 2015 to 2018. She was a Policy Analyst for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission from 2013 to 2015 and a performance improvement manager and accreditation coordinator for the Houston Health Department from 2011 to 2012. She earned a Doctor of Public Health degree in Community Health Practice from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, a Master of Public Health degree in Family and Child Health from the University of Arizona and a Bachelor of Science degree in Athletic Training from Duquesne University. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $162,588. Dr. Estes is a Democrat.

Virginia Hedrick, of Carmichael, has been executive director of California Consortium for Urban Indian Health Inc. since 2017. She was a program coordinator for the California Rural Indian Health Board from 2007 to 2017. Hedrick earned a Master of Public Health degree from Drexel University. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation. Hedrick is a Democrat.

Gabriel Maldonado, of Los Angeles, has been chief executive officer of TruEvolution since 2008. He earned a Master of Business Administration degree in Global Business from the University of Redlands and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and International Affairs from the University of California, Riverside. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation. Maldonado is a Democrat.

Traco Matthews, of Bakersfield, has been chief health equity officer at Kern Health Systems since 2023. He also serves as a local pastor, an adjunct professor at California State University, Bakersfield, and as a community advocate for equitable housing, public safety, economic opportunities, and voting rights. Matthews was chief program officer at the Community Action Partnership of Kern from 2020 to 2022. He served as a director for Human Resources & Staff Development in the office of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools from 2018 to 2020. He was a public affairs specialist and human resources specialist at Aera Energy LLC from 2012 to 2018. Matthews earned a Master of Business Administration degree from California State University, Bakersfield and a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from the University California, Davis. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation. Matthews is a Democrat.

Jolie Onodera, of Sacramento, has been a senior legislative advocate with the California State Association of Counties since 2022. She served as legislative director at the California Department of Finance from 2018 to 2022. Onodera served as deputy secretary of legislation at the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency from 2017 to 2018. She was the principal consultant for the California Senate Committee on Appropriations from 2011 to 2016. Onodera was a Research Program Specialist II with the California Department of Social Services from 2009 to 2011. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation. Onodera is a Democrat.

Manuel Pastor, of Pasadena, has been a director and professor at the USC Equity Research Institute since 2007. He served as a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz from 1996 to 2007 and at Occidental College from 1984 to 1996. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Economics from the University of Massachusetts and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from the University of California, Santa Cruz. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation. Pastor is a Democrat.

Yolanda R. Richardson, of Roseville, has been the chief executive officer of the San Francisco Health Plan since 2022. She served as secretary of the California Government Operations Agency from 2020 to 2022. Richardson was CEO of Teloiv from 2016 to 2020. She served as chief deputy executive director at Covered California from 2011 to 2016 and was chief operations officer at Cal eConnect from 2009 to 2011. Richardson was chief operating officer at the San Francisco Health Plan from 2007 to 2009. She was vice president of operations at PacAdvantage from 2003 to 2007. Richardson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Vocational Education from California State University, Sacramento. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation. Richardson is a Democrat.

Simboa Wright, who has been Vice President of SEIU Local 721 since 2021. He has served as a Wastewater Collection Worker II for the City of Los Angeles since 2001. Wright is a member of the LA Conservation Corps Board of Directors. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation. Wright is a Democrat.

Only time will tell if the Racial Equity Commission has the teeth to tear apart structural systems that have been in place for decades.


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