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Rinku Sen

Politicians can be graded on racial justice

On the day the Census Bureau released new statistics on racial disparities that reveal a widening gap between whites and people of color in income, homeownership and education, the Applied Research Center released three legislative report cards on racial justice from California, Illinois and Minnesota . Illinois came out the winner , with a Democratic Governor and largely Democratic legislature passing a number of bills that met our criteria for being a racial justice bill that passed the statehouse. In California , partisanship killed many good bills, and in Minnesota no one is doing what they should even while the state becomes more diverse and its racial disparities grow.

In every case, though, the state governments missed opportunities that would have greatly improved life in that state. In California, the two parties fell apart over a plan to include undocumented children in state health care coverage, and the Governor vetoed a bill to set up a single payer health care system that would have insured 6.5 million people. In Illinois, the statehouse failed to create a new system for funding schools that isn't based on property taxes. Each report also describes harmful bills that would have racist results.

These reports show that racial disparities are not inevitable. State legislatures can make policy that makes them worse or makes them better. Better is more than possible if we have the political will to talk race explicitly, honestly and structurally.

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Posted at 3:15 PM, Nov 14, 2006 in Civil Rights | Criminal Justice | Immigration | Racial Justice
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