The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday rejected a move to direct its lobbying firm to oppose affirmative action in the county’s legislative agenda.
Supervisor Don Wagner, who pitched the affirmative action proposal, voted for it along with Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel. Supervisors Andrew Do, the board’s vice chair, and Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Doug Chaffee voted no.
Do said he opposes affirmative action, but objected to some of the language included in Wagner’s proposal.
Do said noted that he has experienced the sting of racism as a refugee from Vietnam, who arrived in Orange County when he was 13.
“During the 45 years that I’ve lived here I’ve faced poverty, racism, bullying and even violence and rejection, but I also learned perseverance and recognize that most of America and California does not resemble that ugly side of our society,” Do said.
“That ugly side of our society, the side that primarily preys on people of color, as I got older during my professional career as an attorney, the hostility was less visible and direct, but I still had more to prove and less room for error as a person of color, so I speak from personal experience.”
Do said while racism is a “blunt instrument,” the way to correct it is not through the use of “another blunt instrument in any race-based or quota-defined affirmative action.”
Do said there’s an imbalance in the system as wealthier people can afford tutors, better computer access and expensive club sports as extracurricular activities that can help bolster a college application.
“This veneer of merit can only be available to the very few, but carries so much weight in college admissions, in job offers, in social acceptance because they validate abstract concepts that are impossible to quantify,” Do said. “How many high school students who come from lesser means families who have solid (grade point averages) who can otherwise provide this type of well-rounded aspect to their college application?
“So what this shows is there is a systemic bias and sometimes it is hard to detect, therefore, if we are to oppose affirmative action, and I am opposed to affirmative action… then we must also oppose with equal fervor these markers of status that are treated as if they demonstrate merit… We can’t pick and choose the biases we like and reject the ones we don’t like. We have to do a better job of evaluating the candidates on their own merit and we have to work harder to create a more level playing field for all in terms of fairly assessing their likelihood to succeed in college.”
Do also said because voters rejected Proposition 16 in November, “having another statement on it is beating the dead horse on what has already been settled.”
Supervisor Doug Chaffee agreed.
“We need to bring people together rather than pushing people apart,” Chaffee said. “It strikes me as a political position and it puts us out of sync with the Legislature up there in Sacramento.”
Chaffee said he also objected having the county’s lobbyists work on pushing an opinion not shared by Democrats in the capitol.
“Why would they spend time on this item when they should be spending time on finding money to take care of housing and social services and other needs that we have,” Chaffee said. “It just strikes me as not appropriate here.”
Wagner said Proposition 16 “targeted the Asian community and everybody knows that.”
“We’re talking about something that is fundamentally un-American for the government to pick and choose people based on something other than their hard work, their merit, their abilities,” Wagner said.
“The country was founded on the principle that we don’t care where you come from… This country has been imperfect in realizing those principles, but those are the founding principles that affirmative action goes specifically, intentionally against.”
Wagner said despite the Proposition 16 defeat he believes “no bad idea is ever done in Sacramento. It comes back all the time, so we can’t rest on our laurels and say, hey, we won Proposition 16, affirmative action targeting the Asian population is no longer something we need to worry about.”
“The truth of the matter is it’s going to come back,” Wagner said. “Are we out of sync with the Legislature? Yeah, we should be. I’m proud that we are and there is nothing in the affirmative action agenda item that says we’re going to favor the rich. There’s nothing that says means-based scholarships are not appropriate. They are appropriate.”
Do said he objected to language in Wagner’s proposal that referred to “hard work and merit as the primary criteria., not the only criteria. That leaves room for other criteria to consider.”
Steel said, “Affirmative action is not about wealth or poverty. It’s racial discrimination and racial discrimination is wrong under any circumstances.”
Wagner agreed to strike the language Do objected to, but the board voted it down anyway.
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