Raphael J. Sonenshein | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"

Raphe Sonenshein: Cold War Fears Weaponized Against Immigrants

Raphael Sonenshein: My name is Rafe Sonenshein. I'm the Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA. I'm also a political scientist and for basically all of my career, I've studied, participated in, and written about racial politics, ethnic politics in Los Angeles and California, going all the way back to the 1980s when I really started doing my research.

A way to think about the environment of California in the early 1990s, it was a very tense time of economic transition. Many of the prosperous years of Southern California, especially built around the aerospace industry, had really begun to collapse and hadn't really been replaced by anything substantial. There was a high level of economic uncertainty. There was a national recession in the early 1990s that really didn't begin to clear until after the passage of Prop 187 in 1994.

It was a time when the long history of anti-immigrant tensions and resentments in California that really affected the prospects of many communities in California, reemerged in the face of this economic anxiety and little by little what had been a not big political focus on immigration in politics in California nationwide, began to take the turn to what it has become today, which is a partisan issue.

It was not such a partisan issue in the 1980s. In fact, Democrats were quite split over immigration. There was a lot of concern in the Labor Movement about immigration as a way of taking union jobs for an unionized workers at that time who were that time on unionized? There were tensions growing in South Los Angeles, between African Americans and Latinos moving into Southcentral Los Angeles then called South Central Los Angeles. It was a tense time. I think it was a time that politics had developed a serious edge that was eventually going to begin to circle around immigration, but first in California.

California became the seedbed of today's immigration politics and I want to make sure everybody understands that immigration had always been a part of California politics going all the way back to the 1800s with Japanese immigrants, Chinese immigrants, and others the movement back and forth, often forced, of Mexican workers in California. This was the modern version of all that and it was going to start because of economic anxiety and a state that was beginning to have millions of people doubting their prospects in the future. Unfortunately, immigrants became a useful scapegoat for that anxiety.

The environment was affected by other things. The end of the Cold War was very significant in a certain way that was going to turn out to be more important nationally later on, which is the Cold War was a defining issue for American politics for probably more than 50 years. By 1989 a void was about to be created with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the breakup of what had been considered a communist movement worldwide that was a security threat to the United States, in some ways, one needed new explanations for anxiety.

Basically, much of the anxiety had been built around global politics. Then you had a great deal of uncertainty because of Wars in Central America that the US was integrally involved in, but I think at the end of the day, it was really going to be about resources and work in California that were threatened in many ways by this economic transitions, some of which arose from the decline of the Cold War. Certainly, the decline of the aerospace industry was connected to the end of the Cold War, but at the street level, it was beginning to be a situation of all against all, which is always a framework for trouble in racial and ethnic politics.

The cataclysm that happened in 1992 in Los Angeles, whether one calls it a riot or a rebellion is more of a political question, it was both a symptom and a cause of further intensity of feelings among groups. In fact, within Los Angeles, not only was there a movement among African Americans to fight police misconduct, but there was also increasing concern and conflict and edginess between African Americans and Latinos. Then you had white voters in the San Fernando Valley, eventually beginning a movement to secede from the city of Los Angeles.

It's almost like things breaking apart in different directions, alienations of different types in different communities. Again, that helped lay the groundwork for Prop 187 in that I think there was very little common ground among a whole host of communities. You had Democrats divided, you had Republicans angry and alienated. Basically, there was just a lot of ill-feeling. It really eventually wiped out the Tom Bradley Coalition in Los Angeles, who, who stepped down after five terms in 1993, a lot of the elected officials moved on having difficulty navigating this time.

If one was going to propose a very simple and harsh measure that would pin all these ills on immigrants and it would mainly be seen as immigrants from Mexico, then this was a time that it was going to be profitable to do that. It's really worth remembering that you can't read history backwards from today to 1994 and even to 1990. It's more a matter of looking at that period as when today's politics was formed out of the raw materials of the 1980s and the 1990s. That's a long way of saying that Republicans were not so anti-immigrant in the 1980s and the 1990s, in some ways, for the very reasons that Democrats were divided over immigration.

The business community saw immigration as a useful part of their own agenda in terms of having a larger labor force, perhaps often an ununionized labor force. Democrats were sympathetic to immigrants but worried about the impact of it on unions and union membership in California and in the country. It's hard for people to believe that in 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that was widely known as an amnesty bill, which today would, of course, be completely toxic in the Republican Party, or that Pete Wilson had been previously seen as a US Senator as favorable to increasing the numbers of workers coming in from Mexico and relaxing some of the obstacles to that. Whereas Democrats weren't so sure that without labor protections, that would be a good idea.

It's a way of saying things were a lot more undetermined about who was going to be where on immigration, but as the Republican governor began to suffer politically going into his reelection in 1994, things began to fall into place in a different way, that immigration was now going to become a conservative Republican issue. Limitation on immigration, making it hard for people to come here, making it hard for people to stay here, the battle over public services. That's what's so significant about Prop 187. This was a wide-open debate crossing party lines in the '80s and the '90s, but Prop 187 changed all of that. I think it happened in a way that ultimately hurt the Republican Party, but certainly helped them in some ways and became the foundation of Donald Trump's campaign for president many decades later.

Prop 187 was going to basically make it impossible for undocumented residents to receive most public services, including public education, in California. In addition, it was going to require people in what today we would call reporting positions, to report undocumented people, uh, in their world, whether it was in the schools or in other public service agencies.

This was a pretty big shock. Now, it wouldn't have been a shock 50 years before when many measures that were even harsher toward immigrants were widespread in California, but in modern California, it was a pretty strong way of pulling out immigrants and putting them in a highly vulnerable position, but especially in the area of public services.

What was most striking was two things. One was the notion that public education would not be open to these children. The other was the notion of turning public servants into reporting agents of the immigration status of people within their potential within their environment. It was a very, very tough measure that as you know, as everybody knows looking back, did not survive scrutiny by the federal courts for many reasons, but it was a real warning shot across the bow.

It had been a long time since I'd seen Pete Wilson's ad about they keep coming across the border. I have to say, even today, I'm shocked by it which surprises me because they didn't think much could shock me in American politics anymore. It's a frightening ad in so many ways and if you put yourself in the position of the voter, it is clearly designed to elicit not just a public policy concern that we're spending too much money on public services for undocumented residents, it's much more about a threat. That they're coming over the border, not that they're quite coming to get you, but it's an aggressive image of people coming.

I can see now why a lot of people who are on the fence when they saw that commercial might've said, I don't know what the details of this are, I don't know what this is going to mean for public education, I don't really pay any attention to this and that and to what the budget says, but, oh my God, they're coming. They're coming is a really strong message that resonates from the Cold War when there was a feeling that the Russians were coming and you remember, there was even a movie, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, which was a satire on Cold War fears but I grew up in the Cold War and there was a lot that people were afraid of.

They were afraid of nuclear war, but they were always afraid of they're coming, they're on their way, they're coming. I don't know if this was so brilliantly designed or if it was just something that hit the flavor of the moment. It was almost a perfect representation of moving the fears we had during the Cold War and simply picking them up by the scruff of the neck and putting them on immigrants from Mexico and saying, yes, they are coming.

It is ironic that in the United States where we're protected by two oceans and we're protected North and South by countries that have always been friendly to the United States, that yet we still carry within us the fear that they're coming, that somebody is coming. Many other countries experienced that as a daily fear, that it's possible that their neighbor is coming or that someone is crossing the border, but this crossing the border ad, I think had nothing to do with public services.

Pete Wilson to this day still says he was really just concerned that the federal government was not paying its fair share of public services, costs of undocumented residents, and therefore Prop 187 was necessary because it was a more reasonable way to make sure California didn't get shortchanged. Well, this commercial had nothing to do with that. It had everything to do with they're coming, the phrase they're coming. Looking at it today, I'm astonished by the wallop that commercial still carries today.

Well, I'd really like to talk with you a bit about the dynamics of that year in terms of that whole election. If I could just go from beginning to end if you don't mind. Pete Wilson was in big trouble running for reelection. Pete Wilson was one of the most successful politicians in modern California, a moderate Republican who had risen to power in San Diego by being a Republican who was also a very strong environmentalist and pro-choice on abortion, considered a social moderate at a minimum, and probably in modern terms, like an Arnold Schwarzenegger Republican in many ways.

Today the Republican Party keeps searching for candidates like that to get onto statewide ballots that they won't get annihilated every year statewide. That was the Pete Wilson that most people knew heading into his re-election, but because of the recession and because of what had happened in Los Angeles and because of the growing unpopularity of a Republican regime in 1992, then replaced by Bill Clinton in 1992 and taking office in '93, he was very vulnerable as a re-election candidate.

He ended up facing a very strong Democratic candidate, Kathleen Brown, the daughter of legendary governor, Pat Brown, and the sister of Jerry Brown, ran for governor, got the Democratic nomination, and was well ahead in the polls for a very long time during this race. People were even talking about her as a national political figure if she would be elected governor and it was assumed that Pete Wilson would have a difficult time being re-elected.

There's no two ways around it, what turned this race around was his embrace of Prop 187, even at the cost of his reputation from before as a business moderate on immigration and a moderate Republican, but he grabbed that lifeline before he fell under the waves of politics in this election. I won't say things moved right away, but there were some very odd things going on in the polls early on.

One is significant support among Latino voters for Prop 187 in the early portions of that. There's a lot of reasons for that. One is that we later discovered when millions of new Latino voters entered the roles, that the existing Latino electorate, which was quite small in California, maybe 8% of the electorate was less Democratic, less liberal than the Latino electorate to come, which is the post-187 electorate was more likely to be Democratic, more likely to be middle-class and working-class, and more likely to be liberal than the existing Latino electorate, but also the Latino community wasn't always so sure about the immigration issue.

Just to take you back to a time when immigration divided everybody. In the early stages, there was significant support among Latino voters, Prop 187 was doing pretty well. It was doing very well with white voters and people discovered that it was doing rather well with African American voters. Some of which having to do with the transition of the working conditions of African Americans, which were really dreadful in Southern California in the early 1990s, and the shifting neighborhood patterns where it would be possible to have conflict between these communities. Asian Americans were leaning toward Prop 187 all of that began to shift as the campaign went along.

As the campaign kept going, there was no relief in the economic condition of California and the polls were showing severe concern. From the standpoint of Pete Wilson, if that were to get pinned on the governor, there's no way he could be reelected. That if it was seen that he was not doing enough to restore the economic prospects of California, there's no way he could win, but perhaps if people had an explanation for what had gone wrong with the economy, he might have a chance.

Kathleen Brown made a very, very hard decision, but although I'm not so sure it was so hard for her because she did what she thought was right. She opposed Prop 187 even while it was doing very well in the polls. That became a significant distinction between Kathleen Brown and Pete Wilson. Little by little, pieces of the Democratic coalition began to pay more attention to the downsides of Prop 187.

There was some mobilization in the Latino community, eventually leading to a March in Los Angeles. A lot of new young political folks got involved in the battle against 187. By the time Prop 187 made it to win, it had only about a quarter of Latino voters supporting and the great majority of Latino voters who were against, Asian Americans were split, African Americans, probably 40 to 45% favored Prop 187, I believe a slim majority opposed it. White voters with the exception of Jewish voters and white liberal voters, mostly Democrats, supported Prop 187. There was still strong opposition to Prop 187 among the most liberal white voters and among Jewish voters.

It was a strange coalition. I remember on election night, I was reading exit polls because I was doing commentary on a TV news station. I asked them to show me people's view of the state of the economy in California and their economic prospects, mostly white voters I was looking at, but all voters, and their vote on Prop 187. It was pretty clear that the most stressed voters were really drawn to Prop 187.

I want to tell you, we've always projected that to today and said a lot of the anti-immigrant sentiment or support for Donald Trump is from the most economically stressed voters. That's not always born out by the polls today. It's actually a much more complicated than a simple economic thing. Back then, I think what you saw was a few displacements. The fears from the Cold War displaced onto immigrants from Mexico as "they're coming" and the concerns and, and almost desperation about the economy also displaced onto immigration, especially from Mexico. That's a pretty toxic combination and it was enough to reelect Pete Wilson and doom the Republican Party in California.

What happened in the 1990s with the role of Latinos, especially in California. When I think back to that period, what goes through my mind is the worst place to be in American society is to have significant numbers, an important role, but not enough voters. Because one can be a target and by the people who make you a target can pay no political price for making you a target. If you want to say what it was like to have a target on your back in the '90s, a community with 8% of the rest of the voters in California, but significant numbers in the workplace, in the community, visible, ready to be made a scapegoat, but with no means to make people pay a price for making one a scapegoat is the worst place you can possibly be in.

Now, I don't know that anybody ever said it quite that way in 1994 and 1995, but almost immediately after the passage of Prop 187, people began to organize especially the labor unions, but civil rights organizations. The argument was if you don't find a way to get into the system to register, to vote, and to vote, then this will happen again and again and again. I think it turned out to be a very compelling argument, but what made it even more significant is because Pete Wilson had used this measure to get reelected. Imagine if this was a different time in '94, the economy was fine, but Prop 187, for some reason, was popular, Pete Wilson had not embraced it and been reelected, we would've had a whole different situation

People began to say a few things. One is if I'm not a citizen but have the chance to become a citizen, I'm going to become a citizen. If I am a citizen, I am going to register to vote. If I'm going to register to vote, I will vote. The argument very compelling and it's an argument I think makes a great deal of sense, which is if you're already going to be a target, you might as well be a voter because voters can make people pay a price for making you a target.

That argument was very compelling. You didn't have to make that argument to a lot of people. A lot of people were reading the tea leaves themselves and saying, as you'll hear people say, I haven't applied for citizenship, no more, I'm applying for citizenship. Basically, one step at a time people were saying, but what was striking is when people would become citizens and take the oath of citizenship, which is one of the most dramatic and exciting things in American society I think. When you walk outside, there are always tables where the political parties are located to try to register you to vote.

One could have imagined 10 years before, maybe 50% going to the Democratic one, 30% to the Republican, no big deal. People were going to the tables and apparently saying, so which party does Pete Wilson belong to? If there's only one answer that he was a Republican, they said, well, I'm going to the other table. In very large numbers, people were prepared to think of this as a party issue. In the long, even though the Democrats had been split over Prop 187, still, they were clearly more against it than the Republicans and that's simply continued.

With this new Latino electorate in 1996, played a significant role in state elections, but in 1998, it really hit its high point in the election of Gray Davis as Governor of California as a Democrat, strong legislative gains in the Democratic Party, numerous Latino elected officials getting into state office and the state Senate and the state assembly. Now, this really think how quick that is, by the way, between 1994 and 1998, California is now on its row on its road to what it was going to be today with a Latino electorate that is roughly 25% or more of state voters which is a gigantic shift.

I'll give you a case study. Since I was looking at LA politics all these years. In 1993, there was a mayor's race in Los Angeles. About 8% of all votes in the election were cast by Latinos, and the Republican moderate candidate, Richard Riordan, did quite well with Latino voters. It almost seems like from another era, it seems like ancient history one year before Prop 187.

Then in 2005, only 12 years later, Latino cast 25% of all votes in the mayoral race that elected Antonio Vieragosa as mayor, a dramatic change in only 12 years from a time when Latinos were a small portion of the city electorate and were open to voting for a moderate Republican like Richard Riordan in that tradition of moderate Republicans in California. But we're back behind that curtain back before 1994 when really everything changed, and 12 years is pretty fast in political terms, but to cast four times the proportion of the city's vote in 2015 and to be a bulwark of the election of a Latino Democrat as mayor of the city, really is testimony to what was happening in California, as well as in its largest city.

There's a longer story that you might call what happened after Prop 187, which is where most of the interesting stuff happened after Prop 187. Because when you think about Prop 187, you had Asian-Americans, African Americans, a lot of white voters. People splitting people, not sure, people uncertain what to make of it. What eventually happened after Prop 187 is that a bunch of changes happen really quickly.

One is that Latino voters opposed Prop 187, but they didn't show up in massive numbers opposed to Prop 187. Very often in my experience in politics, people respond to a threat when the threat actually succeeds and then want to reverse it. It was the passage of 187 that led to a massive mobilization of Latino voters. One million new Latino voters entered the voting rolls according to the field organization in the decade, in the remaining decade of the 1990s. They were more likely to be middle-class, working-class, Democratic, and liberal, which is they didn't just change the electorate as a whole, they changed the Latino electorate.

Organized labor began to shift its focus, which had been really remiss in organizing Latino workers, to organizing Latino workers. Now, the union movement, instead of being in a battle with immigration realized that they also had a whole new pool of people to organize, which probably saved the Labor Movement in California. What about Asian Americans and African Americans? A lot of interesting things happened.

Asian Americans at first had been split on Prop 187, and people don't always know this but in 1992, Republicans defeated Democrats in the presidential race among Asian Americans by a two to one majority but it wasn't many years before that reversed. The Asian Americans began to feel in larger numbers, that the assault on largely Hispanic immigrants was ultimately an assault on all immigrants in the country, and it took a while for that to actually sink in. When that did, you began to a significant shift among Asian Americans. After all, there's a very large foreign-born population of Asian Americans and there's even a significant undocumented population of Asian-Americans.

At first, I think that that "they're coming" image seemed to be entirely about they're coming from Mexico, but it wasn't long before that began to be perceived as more about a white reaction against changing demographics in the United States, than about doing something about the border at Mexico. At this point, Asian-Americans became more of a pro-immigrant community going forward.

African Americans went through a similar evolution, and it was an evolution, because as this became a more partisan issue, and as it became more clearly a racialized issue. Think about it this way, Prop 187 started as we have to do something about Mexican immigrants who are taking all the money for public services, et cetera. That's a rather narrow if harsh view.

Over time, as that argument began to morph into what we've seen now in the last few years, which is that whites are going to not have their position in society if all these communities of color have a greater role, boy, that's a different story, and message received, I would say in those communities, that it's now a partisan dividing line, such that even those Republicans, as late as the 2000s, like George W. Bush and John Mccain, who actually wanted to lead and sign on to comprehensive immigration reform, a reform we would consider a very liberal reform today, had to drop that because of internal Republican politics, and meanwhile, the Democratic side was becoming more pro-immigration.

It really took 25 years for all that to come to fruition, but that's the danger of going back to 1994. I'm thinking it was just like this moment we're in right now in the United States. It's more when the kind of raw materials were coming together to create a planet. Now we're in the planet, but it looks different. Now it's really about an embattled minority of whites spending a lot of time thinking about whether the transition of the country to a more multiracial, multi-ethnic America is something that is going to end their place in society. That was not going on to the same degree in 1994, but 1994 created the conditions for that belief, I'd say.

What's interesting in those days, when things were forming of today's politics, is there were dissenting voices in both parties about the immigration issue, about knowing whether the party was handling these issues correctly. I think the dominant forces in the Republican Party then were the business community, that's less so today, by the way than it was then.

The people in the business community and moderate Republicans always felt that immigration could be a good issue for Republicans and that it could help them reach two communities that seemed within reach of them, which is Latinos, and Asian Americans. They had come to believe that Democrats were always going to have a base of African American voters and white Liberal voters, and those would be to some degree out of reach to the Republican Party, probably ever since 1964 and Barry Goldwater opposing the Civil Rights Act in his campaign.

They felt that immigrant communities could be a great base for Republican majorities in the United States, partly in the belief that they would be socially conservative, maybe economically conservative as sometimes the experience of other immigrant communities coming up after the first or second generation. That was the long view of Republican dominance in the United States, was to get those communities into the Republican Party.

That would be on the one hand, and people in that moderate wing, the business wing of the Republican Party, were holding on to that and actually held on to that all the way into the 2000s, until finally, immigration reform failed, which was probably the last opportunity in 2006 to make that happen. They certainly warned that Prop 187 would be a problem for Republicans. I'm not sure they understood themselves that it could be a fatal problem, I think they thought it was a bad problem.

Now that's on the one hand, on the other hand, we know enough about politics to know that when you are treading water, in danger of losing your career, and there is a lifeline that can save you and save your party's control of the governorship, that it's awfully hard to resist grabbing onto that lifeline and saying, "You know what? We'll worry about all this stuff later on. People are going to forget about Prop 187, it'll probably get knocked out by the courts. We're not really going to have to be dragging kids out of school and dragging teachers out for not reporting kids. Really, honestly, we'll worry about that afterwards, and we'll straighten this all out, and we'll have lots of good communication with Latino communities and Asian Americans, but first I've got to win the election."

That always has a lot of support in politics, just win the election and then worry about all the fallout later. I'm not even sure that those who warned about it were quite as concerned as they were later concerned in 2006, when the comprehensive immigration reform that could have been signed by a Republican president, and probably split the Democratic Party, and cause maybe the growth of a real majority, not a minority as it is now that can win control, but a real much popular majority, there were serious warnings then that this was the wrong way to go.

You had the same calculation, though, when you saw that because of our electoral system, Donald Trump was able to ride that issue to victory. People rarely argue with victory or put it another way, their voices become marginalized when the election is won. I think you saw that play out in Prop 187, but also, in 2006.

When I look at politics today, compared to 1994, I'm both terrified and optimistic. I still believe that in 1994, Pete Wilson, and others probably believed that none of the bad stuff people saw in Prop 187 was ever really going to happen. It would be a bargaining chip with the federal government to try to send more money, et cetera. We would reelect the governor, he'd be able to straighten things out afterwards.

By contrast, today, you see, really a harsh and cruel implementation of policies that are way beyond anything that was envisioned in Prop 187, and that's terrifying and highly, highly disturbing, but on the flip side, Prop 187 got a majority vote in California, 59%. There is not a single one of the current policies in the area of immigration, that would win a majority vote in the United States right now if it was ever put on the ballot. Poll after poll shows very strong support for immigrant rights, way beyond the support that California showed in 1994, and yet, our electoral system does not always reward majority support. It's not like a ballot proposition. There are no ballot propositions in national politics.

Some of it depends on the fate of majority politics in the United States, it's certainly possible to make anti-immigration policies a way of mobilizing a basal support in one political party. It is certainly foreclosing for the foreseeable future, the Republican Party becoming the majoritarian party that many of its voices had hoped for in the 1990s and in 2006, and had, I believe, a very good plan for getting there, that seems to be foreclosed. While it has certainly allowed Republicans to survive not being popular on the immigration issue with a majority and having the support of an intense minority, I just don't know how stable that is going to be over the long haul.

The politics are quite a bit different. Oddly enough, the majority today would be more opposed to Prop 187, and yet, one can win power in this country without that majority support, but probably not forever. We have years to go, I'm playing this issue out. What's striking to me is how the immigration issue itself, separate from who has power and who wins elections, has gone from an intense dividing issue in California in 1994, that divided even traditionally friendly communities with each other, to something that actually is a unifying issue for those groups and for many people not in those groups today, and that gives me actually a feeling of hope.

- Written by: Pilar Marrero, Portrait by: Ricardo Palavecino

Find more firsthand accounts of the campaign against Prop 187 here.

Raphe Sonenshein grew up in the Cold War era, where many people were afraid "that the Russians were coming” for the U.S. and its way of life and that they would unleash nuclear war.  He even remembers a satirical movie with that name “The Russians are coming.”

But in 1994, California politicians turned that fear — right after the Cold War ended — and gave it a local flavor, he says.  A similar type of rhetoric showed up in the campaign for Proposition 187, especially a very famous ad by Gov. Pete Wilson, which showed people running across the border from Mexico and a voice saying “they keep coming.”

“’They are on their way, they are coming '…I don't know if this was so brilliantly designed, but it was almost a perfect representation of moving the fears we had during the Cold War and simply picking them up by the scruff of the neck and putting them on immigrants from Mexico and saying ‘Yes, they are coming.’”

By that time, Sonenshein was already a seasoned political observer, but he thought the ad was particularly strong.

"I didn't think much could shock me in American politics anymore; it was frightening in so many ways,” he remembers. "It was clearly designed to elicit not just a public policy concern that we're spending much money on services for undocumented residents but about a threat of them coming, an aggressive image of people coming.”

It was a new explanation for anxiety, he says, at a moment when California was being battered by an economic recession coming out of the end of the Cold War — with deep cuts at the aerospace industry — with increasing demographic change, social upheaval and “alienation of different types of communities.”

It's hard to understand 1994 in California in the context of today, he says. Neither party in the 1980s or 1990s was as anti- or pro-immigrant as they are now.

"Republicans were not so anti-immigrant, and Democrats were divided over immigration because many worried about the impact on it from unions and union membership,” Sonenshein remembers. “Pete Wilson was a moderate and had previously been seen as a U.S. Senator favorable to increasing the number of workers coming in from Mexico.”

In this interview for the documentary “187: the Rise of the Latino Vote,” Sonenshein, who today is the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, explains the trajectory of California, its political parties and communities through one of their most turbulent times. He also explores what all of that means today. 

“On the flip side of all of this, Proposition 187 got a majority vote in California, but not a single one of the current policies in the area of immigration would win a majority vote in the U.S. right now…and yet, our electoral system does not always reward majority support.”

Sonenshein, a native of New Jersey, is the author of three books on Los Angeles politics and government, served as Executive Director of the Los Angeles (Appointed) Charter Reform Commission and was Chair of the Division of Politics, Administration, and Justice at CSU Fullerton.

He received his B.A. from Princeton and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University.


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