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As candidates for governor are pressed on affirmative action, Antonio Villaraigosa says it's vital to California

 (Los Angeles Times)
(Los Angeles Times)

Gubernatorial candidates, who have been pressed to offer their thoughts on affirmative action by Latino and black state lawmakers, began to weigh in Monday evening.

Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles, gave the most concrete response.

"Mayor Villaraigosa agrees with both caucuses that keeping this issue at the forefront is vital to the future of California,” a campaign spokeswoman said in a statement. “He went to UCLA on an affirmative action program and was on the frontline against Prop. 209. Villaraigosa believes California can’t truly be progressive unless we’re all making progress together, which means we must support and expand programs that lift more families into the middle class."

Villaraigosa was responding to a questionnaire sent to six Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates about affirmative action and the ramifications of a 1996 voter-approved law that banned it in publicly funded institutions of higher education.

The letter by the chairmen of the Latino and black legislative caucuses, which was mailed Friday, injects a potentially volatile racial issue that has previously splintered California Democrats into the 2018 contest.

The questions also raise a divisive 2014 effort to repeal the ban on affirmative action.

While polling shows that Democratic voters tend to favor efforts to increase opportunities for underrepresented minorities, schisms emerged between Latino and black lawmakers, and their Asian American colleagues, when Democrats tried to repeal the ban. It was ultimately shelved.

A spokesman for GOP candidate John Cox used the letter to poke the Latino caucus for not being inclusive. (The caucus has come under fire for not including Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of Oceanside.)

"We did not receive this questionnaire from the caucuses, but suggest that the Latino caucus take the first step towards greater diversity by allowing Republicans to join their closed caucuses," spokesman Matt Shupe said.

Representatives for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former state schools chief Delaine Eastin, both Democrats, said they had not yet received the letter, while the campaigns for Democratic state Treasurer John Chiang and Republican Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen did not respond to requests for comment.

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