What Should Blacks and Latinos Do About Davis?

The big knock against Governor Gray Davis is that he is rarely seen in black and Latino communities, and its even rarer that he speaks out on crucial issues such as racial profiling, drug law reform, affirmative action, increased urban investment, homelessness, HIV/AIDS, and undocumented workers rights that directly impact on black and Latino communities. Davis' invisibility and mute voice on these issues comes at a dire time for many blacks and Latinos.

According to a report by the California Budget Project, overall income among Latinos and blacks in California has dropped in the past few years. One-third of Latinos live below the poverty level, and more blacks and Latinos than ever have been shut out of the health care system.

Davis' racial aloofness, even insensitivity, is even more infuriating considering that black and Latino voters solidly backed him for election in 1998, and backed him again in 2001 against his Republican gubernatorial opponent William Simon. Simon grabbed a majority of the white, non-Hispanic vote. Without the black and Latino votes, Davis' paper-thin victory over Simon could easily have been a paper-thin defeat. With the recall vote set for October 7, Davis is in the fight for his political life, and if defeated will suffer the embarrassment and disgrace of being the second governor ever to face defeat in a recall election. Davis will make every pitch in the book to blacks and Latinos to back him. They are his core Democratic supporters. The question is what should blacks and Latinos do when Davis comes calling?

Despite the knock on Davis, he's done some things right. He got big hikes in funding for schools and state employee pay and benefits, implemented teacher and student accountability programs, imposed limits on HMOs, cracked the granite-like opposition of the National Rifle Association lobby to enact restrictions on the sale of cheap handguns and assault weapons, backed a modest affirmative action program, and for much of his first term, avoided meat ax slashes in health care and social programs.

He also gave blacks and Latinos hope that he would be the governor who could squelch the partisan and at times race-tinged bickering over crime, affirmative action, immigration, and bi-lingual education that marred much of Republican governor Pete Wilson's second term.

But when one takes a closer look at the big-ticket items that Davis pushed there's less than meets the eye. His education bills mostly pluck around the surface of real reform. They didn't fully mandate that school district's implement standards to improve test scores and hold teachers and administrators accountable for student performance. They did not provide a blueprint for decentralizing the massive, troublesome, and chronically underserved Los Angeles city schools. While Davis surfed the tidal wave of national angst and outrage over the horrific wave of street and high school shootings to push through the restrictions on assault weapons and cheap handguns, he opposed bills that would have imposed even tougher limits on the sale and manufacture of handguns. The flood of cheap handguns in L.A.'s black neighborhoods was one cause of the tidal wave of murder violence the past two years.

Davis also scuttled vital pieces of legislation the legislature approved that cracked down on sweatshop labor, that would have created a permanent commission on hate crimes, legislation that would have provided more funds or established programs to deal with the homeless, youth offenders, minority health needs, to monitor sexual harassment and discrimination cases, and to improve education and training for welfare recipients.

Even Davis' boast that he made more black and Latino appointments than conservative Wilson is only partly true. He appointed far more blacks and Latinos to positions that did not require Senate confirmation than Wilson. But the number of blacks and Latinos he appointed to major posts that required Senate confirmation is only marginally higher than the number Wilson appointed.

Davis has arguably done much public policy good, but that is heavily tempered by some of his reckless, irresponsible spending and public policy priorities that have damaged black and Latino interests. Nowhere has that been more evident than in Davis's mighty effort to out-Republican the Republicans on crime.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. Visit his news and opinion website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).


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