The Man Who Convinced California Voters to Reject Racial Quotas - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Man Who Convinced California Voters to Reject Racial Quotas
Arnold Steinberg, August 29, 2017 (YouTube screenshot)

As Biden has frantically juggled potential nominees to placate each of the plethora of aggrieved special-interest groups that make up the modern Democratic Party, I must admit to having enjoyed a bit of schadenfreude.

The far-left Democrats apparently believe that it is good politics to use a quota system in selecting his presumptive cabinet. I think they are flat-out wrong, both morally and politically. Leaving aside the immorality of their policies and just the politics of their issues, I suggest the Democrats take another look at the election results, because down-ballot results across the country show that voters soundly and consistently rejected candidates and issues pushed by the socialist orthodoxy of the national Democratic party.

For instance, few conservatives thought good news could come out of California in this election. Certainly, President Trump was defeated nearly 2 to 1, as expected. But in many other races and propositions the voters took a decidedly more conservative stance, baffling the self-anointed “experts.” For example, Republicans took back at least three congressional seats.

The anti-Prop. 16 coalition had a secret weapon in its strategist, Arnold Steinberg, a political consultant known for taking on “impossible” campaigns and winning them.

In addition, voters defeated Democrat proposals to raise taxes on businesses and rejected the Democrats’ attempt to help buttress sagging union membership by declaring Uber drivers and other independent workers as employees. The unions were banking on their proposition to pass, making it easier for them to bully workers into paying dues to the unions.

Those victories were remarkable. The elites, however, were completely bowled over by the vote on one issue: racial quotas. California’s voters overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 16, which would have allowed the State to openly discriminate in favor of the “aggrieved” groups liberals pander to — which of course works to the detriment of people that are more qualified.

Here’s the back story. In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 209 to amend the state constitution to prohibit racial and gender discrimination and preferences in California state and local government contracting, employment, and education. This outright ban on discrimination has rankled the liberals ever since it passed. It stifled their efforts to “affirmatively” discriminate against people outside their preferred groups of victims. The Democrats plotted to overturn the ban of race-based affirmative action ever since it passed.

They bided their time waiting for an election where everything lined up to ensure that the Democrats could dominate the electorate. Twenty-twenty seemed like the perfect year to ask the voters to once again allow discrimination that has been prohibited by Prop. 209.

A funny thing happened in the voting booths. Californians just don’t like discrimination, no matter whom it is intended to help. The voters surprised the liberal elites and rejected Proposition 16 by a huge, 2.4 million vote margin, 57 to 43 percent.

The radical Left was stunned. They had been certain Prop. 16 was a sure winner. After all, it was backed not only by unions but by more than 100 influential organizations, including the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Business Roundtable, the UC Board of Regents, the League of Women Voters; the usual lineup of Democrats, including Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris; and all of the Bay Area’s “woke” professional sports teams — the Warriors, 49ers, Giants, Athletics, Sharks, Earthquakes, and Oakland Roots.

The campaign for Prop. 16 was lavishly funded by California’s billionaire elite. Over $10 million was donated by a group of far-left northern California billionaires, including Quinn Delaney, wife of prominent Oakland landlord Wayne Jordan, Patricia Quillin, wife of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, and George Soros’s Open Society Foundations.

The pro-quota cabal also received $7.5 million from reliably leftist organizations such as the California Teachers Association and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In addition, $2 million was squeezed out of two medical corporations heavily dependent on the state government for contracts to pay their patients’ bills: Kaiser Permanente and Blue Shield of California. It’s easy to see how the pro-quota side was able to amass and spend 0ver $31 million.

Their opponents were mostly grassroots volunteers dedicated to keeping the ban on quotas. These people were able to raise and spend less than $2 million. How were the opponents of quotas able to overcome the massive spending of Prop. 16 supporters and convince the overwhelming majority of Californians to keep the ban on quotas despite being outspent 15 to 1?

The anti-Prop. 16 troops were a diverse coalition led by Ward Connerly, a former UC Regent and long-time opponent of quotas. He was joined by a dynamic, largely Asian network of grassroots opponents of quotas.

The coalition also had a secret weapon in its strategist, Arnold Steinberg, a political consultant known for taking on “impossible” campaigns and winning them. Steinberg crafted the strategy and messaging for the opposition to Prop. 16.

Though largely unknown to the general public, Arnie is considered a rock star among political professionals. When conservative journalist Ken Grubbs read on Facebook that Arnie was the brains behind messaging and strategy for the successful campaign, he posted, “I should have known.”

Ending racial and gender discrimination has long been one of Arnie’s passions. In 1996, he teamed up with Connerly to enact Prop. 209, the original ban on quotas in California. People dismissed that effort as a sure loser just as they did Prop. 16. Despite being outspent, it passed by a convincing 55 to 45 percent.

Two years later, in 1998, Connerly and Steinberg teamed up again to pass a similar measure in Washington state. Steinberg created an innovative educational advertising program that crushed the pro-quota effort, which was backed by the state’s entire political and business leadership, including Starbucks, Boeing, Microsoft, Costco, and Nordstrom. Despite endorsements and huge donations of quotas from the state’s “heavy hitters,” Washington state’s voters decisively rejected quotas 58 to 42 percent.

Steinberg shuns the limelight, but his credentials are impressive. He was a wunderkind among the small group of conservative intellectuals that built the modern conservative movement. He was a protégé of William F. Buckley Jr. and at the tender age of 22 was asked to help develop a campaign plan to elect Buckley’s brother Jim to the U.S. Senate. Jim ran as the nominee of the small New York Conservative Party.

Most thought that the campaign was a quixotic endeavor. But to the surprise of the entire political establishment, Jim Buckley won the race and became the first and only Conservative Party member to serve in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Buckley tapped Steinberg to help run his Washington office.

I first met Arnie when we were both leaders of the Youth for Reagan in 1966. We became good friends and have worked closely together for the intervening 54 years, most recently developing the message to build conservative support for the Second Chance Act, the first major criminal justice reform in decades. This is President Trump’s greatest bipartisan accomplishment, and Arnie’s messaging was very effective in gaining conservative support for the effort.

Arnie possesses an impressive combination of strategic brilliance and man-on-the-street smarts. He has captained many other campaigns that were dubbed “impossible to win.” For instance, in 1976, in the most expensive congressional race in the country, Arnie guided Bob Dornan to victory, though the experts had written Dornan off.

When the board of the Los Angeles City Schools announced they would continue their disastrous and unpopular forced busing policy, Arnie organized a campaign to elect a new majority to the board. The new board members appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to relieve it from the costly and failed forced busing of schoolchildren.

In 1980, Steinberg ran the campaign of Bobbi Fiedler, one of those anti-busing school board members. She ran for Congress as a Republican challenging a 20-year Democratic incumbent in a district that was 62 percent Democrat and 31 percent Republican. Fiedler was definitely an underdog, with the incumbent next in line to be chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means. Yet under Steinberg’s brilliant strategy, Fiedler, despite being overwhelmingly outspent, won by 750 votes out of over 200,000 cast. Arnie then outfoxed the Democrats’ “hanging chad” recount attempt to overturn Fiedler’s victory.

In 1993, Steinberg designed the strategy that elected a Republican businessman, Richard Riordan, to two terms as mayor of Los Angeles. The last Republican previously elected mayor of LA was in 1957 — a full 36 years earlier. Sadly, Riordan will likely be the last Republican to serve as LA’s mayor.

I’ve long believed the conservative movement and Republicans need strategists who go beyond our base to build coalitions with groups that have voted for Democrats for years but whose values are conservative. Arnie Steinberg has proved that we can win the votes of Independents and Democrats by being innovative and creative.

Political messaging is not a science dictated by polls and focus groups. Yes, those numbers are important, but to win we must draw insights from them and couple those numbers with an understanding of what motivates voters to look beyond their regular voting habits. To accomplish that requires wisdom and brilliance, with a good dose of humility.

It is that combination of insight, wisdom, brilliance, and humility that Arnie applied to the task of developing a winning message that would defeat Prop. 16. He prevented the Left from painting the anti-quota campaign as right-wing, racist, angry white males. Instead, Steinberg and his team presented a nonpartisan, multi-racial coalition of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. The main theme Arnie developed for the “No on 16” campaign was “Don’t divide us.” He gave the voters a simple explanation of what race preferences would mean in education: “Prop. 16 would use race to decide which school or class your child could attend.”

Arnie Steinberg has applied a lesson that Ronald Reagan drilled into all of us who worked on his campaigns: “There is no limit to the good you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Arnie’s humility has allowed him to accomplish a lot for conservatives and for our nation. He will eschew this praise, but he deserves a lot of credit for guiding so many campaigns to “impossible” victories.

Pat Nolan is the founder of the Nolan Center for Justice at The American Conservative Union Foundation. He served as Republican Leader of the California State Assembly from 1984–88.

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