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Jon Fleischman

FlashReport Interview with Arnie Steinberg on the defeat of Prop 16

I’ve known Arnold Steinberg for more than twenty years, and he had been involved in political campaigns and causes long before we became acquainted, and developed our longtime friendship.

Arnie SteinbergWe decided to ask Arnold Steinberg, who was involved in early 1995 in the early stages of what became Proposition 209 and then became that campaign’s strategist and chief consultant. He reprised that dual role in creating and overseeing the campaign against Proposition 16. Steinberg, whose roots are deep within the conservative and libertarian movement, has been involved for decades in public policy — issues ranging from foreign policy and national security to economic policy, criminal justice reform, and race. The author of two (long out of print) graduate texts on campaign management and media, Steinberg in 2017 authored Whiplash! From JFK to Donald Trump, A Political Odyssey.

Proposition 16 on the November ballot was a measure put on the ballot at the last minute, at deadline, by the super-majority in the State Legislature to amend the State Constitution. Prop 16 would have repealed Prop 209, which was passed in 1996 to prohibit the State of California and all government units within it from using race in government contracting, employment or education. One of the most remarkable and surprising election results this cycle was that California voters, in what is seen as a one-party state, not only rejected Prop 16 in a nationally watched campaign with consequences for the rest of the country, but by a wide margin. But was it all that remarkable and surprising, or is there more of a story here?

Jon Fleischman, Publisher, The FlashReport


FR: When you took on the campaign against Prop 16, we talked, and you seemed pessimistic. Why did you take it on, and what changed?

AS: I was down because the stars seemed in alignment against us, as I’ll discuss in a moment. But I had to put up a fight against these elitist barbarians who want to tear down society, depreciate civility and courtesy, condone vandalism, rioting, looting, arson, indoctrinate our children, and feed racial prejudice and turn Americans against each other. They talk “diversity” but that means only race, and they’re not for blacks, only for leftist blacks, and surely “diversity” in terms of intellectual or ideas, let alone freedom of thought. You think the L.A. Times has diversity? Most of the reporters write as if they’re auditioning to be editorial page editor. The leading newspaper in our state is a public embarrassment. And the affirmative action crowd — they dehumanize the very people they claim to care about, as they demean, to use their absurd phrase, “people of color.” Prop 209 was…is.. part of my legacy. I’m proud of it as is Ward Connerly, who took plenty of abuse in championing it. Prop 16 was a premeditated attempt to kill it, because Prop 209, as long as it’s part of the State Constitution, strikes at the core of the Orwellian group-think/anti-individual America-hating race-obsessive dogma at the heart of the Left. It’s a cult, and what changed? It’s that independents, moderates, an increasing number of blacks, and many Latinos, and even some young people who sense the crude brainwashing from the media and in schools and colleges, are opening their minds and organically de-programmed from the cult.. For example, they responded in droves to our thoughtful and focused and candid digital media ad campaign.

FR: What’s the major take-away from Prop 16’s defeat?

AS: People oppose race discrimination and race preferences. That’s why the other side keep strying to change the subject, using words like “affirmative action” or “diversity.” But there can be affirmative action without the use of race, for example, based on socio-economic factors. And diversity can occur under Proposition 209, just not racial discrimination and preferences.

FR: What else about the election results?

AS: The defeat of Prop 16 is a political coming-of-age for Americans of Chinese descent, especially conservatives and libertarians. A young woman with a PhD but no campaign experience, Wenyuan Wu, was No on 16 executive director. Key volunteers in this statewide campaign like Joy Chen and Saga Zhou Conroy joined the formidable Honorary Chair Betty Chu, also of Orange County. Betty, among the first Chinese-American lawyers in California, had faced discrimination. In his first campaign role, volunteer finance chair Frank Xu of San Diego raised the bulk of the No on 16 funds from 8000 small donors, nearly all Chinese Americans of modest means.

FR: What about press?

AS: We had a strong earned media campaign that stayed on message, often surgical, while the other side, unethically and stupidly, was offending our millions of supporters by saying they were white supremicists. Communications Director Ying Ma was professional, persevering despite the hostility of major editorial boards, some refusing to meet with us, and others —like the Los Angeles Times, increasingly juvenile in its pathetic WOKE ideology. For a newspaper predictably leftist, nowadays a caricature, I must say George Skelton’s honest and soul-searching column, was refreshing, in which he wrote he evaluated the competing arguments before concluding:
“ I’m a ‘no’ vote. I can’t bring myself to erase from the California Constitution language that decrees “the state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment … on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin…”

FR: Not much of a staff for a ballot measure in the largest state in the nation with 21 million voters?

AS: Ying had some part-time help. And I must mention Damian Fussel who directed so much of the campaign; he was our affirmation action “Anglo hire.” Seriously, Damian brought formidable management and organization experience to the campaign. We had talented volunteers filling any staffing gap.

FR: You mentioned Chinese-Americans. What about Vietnamese, Koreans and other Asian-Americans?

AS: There is a paradox. We conservatives and libertarians don’t really use hyphenated-American terminology. But people bring their history to the political table. Now that my fellow Americans of Chinese background have pointed the way, I believe you’ll see a geometric increase across the nation in Asian-American activism, because they are being demonized by WOKE culture. That’s why they sue Harvard and Yale for racial discrimination. And remember, Congresswomen-elect Michelle Steel and Young Kim campaigned against Prop 16, providing two or our many effective digital ads.

FR: What was the role of Republicans?

AS: Because this measure was put on by the State Legislature, and not by signature petition, the law provided legislative opponents with primacy. So, i am grateful that the Republican leadership — Sen. Shannon Grove and Assemblywoman Marie Waldron — signed off authority to the principal campaign committee led by the renowned Ward Connerly, the spiritual leader of the national movement for equal opportunity, rather than racial discrimination or preferences. And Law Professor Gail Heriot, a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and Reason co-founder Manny Klausner, a renowned litigator, renewed their leadership roles from 209. Gail wrote the ballot argument against 16 that really cut to the chase.

FR: Republicans were not that out visible…

AS: Most initiatives — trial lawyers, insurance companies, casino gambling, Uber —involve money interests. Prop 16 was about principle — racial discrimination, preferences, set-asides, quotas, or racial equality, opportunity, hard work, merit. Making it partisan implicitly says it’s about politics, not ideals, and we lose support. Our media exposure and our paid ads accurately projected the multi-racial face of the campaign, much to the dismay of Prop 16 campaign. Some of the Dems in our digital ads had Biden buttons. One third of Biden voters were No on 16. Early, I believed we would end up with close to 90 percent of the Republican vote and I refused slates, an easy decision with the campaign’s scarce fund. We ended up raising, by the end of the campaign about $1.72 million, compared to well more than $27 million for the YES side.

FR: What’s the other side’s story?

AS: Although they forced this election on short notice and had the entire Political Establishment backing them, they said they were unprepared, did not raise enough funds and had a confusing ballot label.

FR: What do you say?

AS: Record voter registration and record turnout, Biden beats Trump by nearly 2-to-1. AS the New York Times, no conservative newspaper, noted, two days ago, and I quote from reporter Michael Powell’s article, “The proposition seemed tailor-made for one of the nation’s most diverse and liberal states. The state political and cultural establishment worked as one to pass this ballot measure.” Yet, in a favorable political environment for so-called “progressives” — the equity-inclusion-diversity complex behind Prop 16 spent $3.90 per vote to lose by more than 2.4 million votes — 57% no-to-43%. yes. Against all odds, we spent 18 cents per vote (and won). Of course, we were focused, and their campaign was flailing around all over the lot. When we had sued [Attorney General] Becerra, even the judge agreed the AG’s tortured ballot label was biased, but he said precedent required him to defer the AG and mistakenly said if voters read the (100 page) voter guide, voters would realize the measure was not about “diversity” but about reinstating race discrimination/preferences. After losing the election Prop 16 backers now claim voters were confused. The reality is the more their television ads ran (we had none), the more “educated” voters became, the more they rebelled against their b.s. ballot label, and their insane glorification of Black Lives Matter

FR: Any surprises?

AS: Many. Leo Terrell had forcefully debated against 209. I asked him about 16, and he said, “Count me in” to oppose — signed a tough rebuttal in the official ballot guide, spoke out, and did a digital ad highlight the hucksters who want high-bid government contracts based on race.

Also, surprised at the stupidity of the California Teachers Association and their leftist allies pouring time and money into Prop 16, when their tracking polls showed people were not buying what they were selling, but Prop 15, the split-roll, was a close election.

FR: Are you saying they knew Prop 16 would lose?

AS: At the outset and for most of the campaign, they expected to win. But their Prop 16 campaign was run the way government contracting would go, if 16 won. A bunch of WOKE cronies were paid handsome fees because they were politically connected and “minority.” Pollster David Binder’s daily tracking surveys showed their campaign message was not resonating, but they continued to hit up true-believers for money until the end to pay their ideology-driven vendors. A healthy diversion of money from other leftist causes, this cause being empowering politicians to make decisions based on race.

Proposition 16 has not even adjusted its website to thank its supporters.  Instead, it still features their claim that their David Binder continuous tracking showed them running even, and that another survey of those who have voted showed Prop 16 winning 53% to 47%.   After each such news release, Prop 16 raised millions from gullible leftists.   Proponents also say that Latino voters misunderstood Prop 16 as prohibiting  the use of race in affirmative action.  But then, if the measure were misunderstood, why did approximately 90% of Republicans vote against the measure? In fact, the opponents demonstrate their patronizing attitude — in effect, they are saying Latino voters are stupid.

FR: Surprise?

AS: Not as surprising as to who supporting the racially discriminatory Prop 16. For example, Charter School Association giving $100, 000 to Prop 16, a coalition of CTA and its owner politicians and other opponents of charter schools! At least, they could have been neutral. And, at a time of COVID, you had Kaiser Hospitals giving $1.5 million, Blue Shield $500,000. their highly paid CEOs and senior executives should be held accountable. And even PG&E giving $250,000, trying to curry favor with politicians who want to penalize the bumbling utility for its negligence in causing massive fires. I could go on and on— the money from Netflix, Facebook, Genetech, Salesforce, Cisco. And do you really think nurses supported their union giving Prop 16 $300,000? One Latina nurse opposed to 16 said, “I worked hard to become an RN; I don’t want people to think I’m unqualified, and I got my job based on race.

FR: Sounds like you’re not a happy winner?

AS: Very happy. I believe the arrogant control freaks in the State Legislature who thought Prop 16 was a sure winner, especially given it deceptive ballot label biased in its favor, ended up, with its colossal defeat, handing us a gift. Now, those of us who believe in ordered liberty in a free society, and the sanctity of the individual, and who believe government should never have the power to discriminate by race, are now better off with the defeat of Prop 16, then if Prop 209 had stayed on the books without this challenge. The awesome dimensions of the repudiation of the use of race in affirmative action are mind-blowing, altering the national landscape and making it more likely the U.S. Supreme Court will revisit the Bakke decision (1978) that allowed race to be used “as a factor.”

FR: Why is that ruling off?

AS: When Jack Kemp disappointed me by refusing in early 1996 to support Prop 209— and this was months before he was nominated for Bob Dole’s vice presidential running mate, Jack said, “Arnie, I just believe race can be ‘a’ factor, just not ‘the’ factor, in affirmative action. I hung up the phone in disgust. [Former Congressman] Tom Campbell, who clerked at the Supreme Court on Bakke, and who was a leader for 209, and again against 16, said to me back then, nearly 25 years ago “Arnie, what if you asked a prospective employer why he turned you down for a job, and he said, ‘Well your being a Jew was not the factor, it was only a factor.’ Would you feel any better?” And that’s why Becerra used “a factor” in his corrupt ballot label to favor Prop 16, because it minimizes the discrimination inherent in racial preferences.

FR: So, three cheers for the outcome!

AS: But I think it’s time we call out the whores in the business community. Did you know that the California Chamber of Commerce, and local chambers, and California Business Roundtable formally supported Proposition 16 that, in my view, is racist in the pure, meaningful sense of the word. If they lacked the courage to oppose Prop 16, at least be neutral. These are the same groups that complain about legislation Newsom signed for government-enforced quotas on corporate boards, quotas based on race and sexual orientation.

FR: What do you make of all this?

AS: Business groups opposed Prop 15, the split-roll. I knew Howard Jarvis. He would not have supported the way business avoids periodic reassessment, because they use technicalities to claim a sale of the property did not occur. I voted against the split roll because I do believe it’s part of a slippery slope to un-do the guts of Prop 13. Also, I don’t want Newsom and his similarly irresponsible cronies to have more money to waste, or pay for bloated, unfunded government pensions, or or for public schools, without reform, to get more money. The No on 15 ran a terrific campaign, and the Yes on 15 got caught up in its more-government-spending rhetoric. But after the way the crony capitalists boosted Prop 16, perhaps they deserve a split-roll, just as he dwindling number of Republicans in the State Legislature no longer need to fight for charter schools against the Democratic Super Majority and CTA who want to destroy them, when the Charter Schools Association sided with those enemies of charter schools and gave $100,000 to Prop 16.

FR: Any final word?

AS: Sure. Our Governor and State Legislature are out of control, even authoritarian. Their corporate board quotas for race and sexual orientation are like Mussolini’s corporate state — fascism. Their legislation to study reparations is preposterous and obscene. Incidentally, politically, it’s another reason for the alienation of Latino voters (who were split on Prop 16) from the Democrats. And public schools are indoctrination centers. Look, the only reason Newsom vetoed teaching his hate-America critical race theory is the curriculum was anti-Israel, if not anti-Jew. Once they tweak that, he’ll sign the next go-around. Prop 16 is not isolated, it was part of this obsessions with race, in which they are teaching young black and Latino kids this “people of color” nonsense when we are n fact a multi-racial society and race is not the end-all, be-all, and telling youngsters America is evil and racist, with bigotry and bias against these kids, and it’s all bleak and pessimistic and dark out there, no opportunity, the exact opposite is true. My father taught me the sky’s the limit, and he came from extreme hardship, with nearly all his relatives killed in the Holocaust. He didn’t hate and said, essentially, study, work hard, and you’ll go far. They are crushing the American dream in every way, with all that they do, including their attempt to Balkanize us by race and ethnicity. Defeating Prop 16 sent a message — our campaign slogan is “Don’t divide us.”