Gavin Newsom has found himself in an awkward spot this past week, as news reports suggest he is lowering expectations about providing reparations payments to the state’s African American population. The news media played up the key line in his statement after the task force issued its report: “Dealing with that legacy is about much more than cash payments.”
Upset at the coverage, Newsom’s spokesman posted a clarifying tweet, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported: “Gov. Newsom is *not* backing away from cash payments, but wants to wait for the report in its entirety to arrive on his desk before he makes any decision.”
Newsom clearly is trying to placate progressive activists who are championing a broad and ideologically charged reparations program and voters, who are strongly opposed to reparations. Yet Newsom signed into law the measure that created this task force. His political dilemma is of his own making.
Beyond short-term politics, the California Reparations Task Force report offers a blueprint for tearing apart the state’s social fabric, obliterating its budget and setting California on a course of endless debates about historical injustices. The report admits that its proposals only are a “down payment” toward rectifying policies that date back to 1850.
This approach leads to myriad practical problems, too. These include measuring a person’s race, determining residency requirements and assessing specific harms from difficult-to-assess standards involving housing discrimination, mass incarceration, healthcare inequities and the “devaluation” of African American businesses.
It also opens the door to claims from other groups. California passed a spate of anti-Chinese laws in the late 1800s. Likewise, the state passed discriminatory laws aimed at its Mexican population as well as an infamous anti-Okie law during the Dust Bowl migration. California wasn’t a slave state, although Congress granted concessions to slave-holding Southerners as part of that statehood compromise.
The task force’s calculations make one’s head spin. Here’s how it would determine payments based on healthcare inequities: “Take an individual’s value of statistical life (roughly $10,000,000) and divide it by the white non-Hispanic life expectancy in California (78.6 years in 2021) to obtain the value for each year of life absent racial discrimination ($127,226).”That’s just one formula in a payment plan that attempts to rectify hundreds of billions of dollars in damages and could reportedly pay African American residents as much as $1.2 million. The nation’s history is fraught with racial and ethnic conflict, but trying to determine damages to current groups based on history is not the way to achieve equality.
The report also details a hodgepodge of wrongheaded policy ideas beyond financial payouts. Most of those have nothing to do with past injustices and everything to do with modern progressive political notions. For instance, the task force calls for California to repeal or amend Proposition 209, the 1996 initiative that forbids racial and ethnic bias in public accommodations. Furthermore, the task force calls for making Election Day a paid state holiday, restoring voting rights to prison inmates, ending cash bail, increasing Medi-Cal reimbursement rates, repealing the state’s three-strikes law and further raising the state’s minimum wage.
The Legislature and the governor will have the final say on the recommendations, but such politically charged and divisive nonsense should never have gotten this far. For that, we blame the governor.