The California Civil Rights Initiative was headed for trouble from the start. Conceived by two California professors, Glynn Custred and Tom Wood, the CCRI is a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would bar public agencies and schools from discriminating in favor of women or minorities. In other words, it would kill affirmative action in California. Predictably, the CCRI and its authors have become the target of vicious attacks by blacks and liberals, in the grip of a collective hysteria not seen since the publication of The Bell Curve.

According to the Contra Costa Times on October 7, Fred Jordan, the head of the California Business Council of Organizations for Equal Opportunity, warns that the state will suffer economically if voters dare to endorse the measure. Blacks who work for big corporations, Jordan says, “might use their influence to dissuade them from coming to the Golden State” to hold conventions. The same issue reports that an activist named Arnoldo Torres is sponsoring three initiatives of his own aimed at protecting affirmative action.

As reports in the Sacramento Bee make clear, the California Democratic Party has been at the forefront of the attacks on professors Custred and Wood. The attacks are invariably personal. Bill Press, chairman of the state party, says that “They are tools of the Republican Party and they’re probably too dumb to know they are being used.” A May 17 editorial in the Bee blasted Bob Mulholland, an advisor to the state part), for saying “he intends to ‘research’ Wood and Custred . . . to determine ‘if they ever paid their taxes, inappropriately touched students or [have] ever been involved in lawsuits.’ . . . Mulholland says that such research is a standard part of the political process.”

But the most interesting remarks come from Willie Brown, speaker emeritus of the California State Assembly. Speaking before a mob of mostly black and Latino students on the Hayward campus of Cal State University, where Professor Custred teaches. Brown urged his audience to take Custred’s class. “You ought to do what you do best, to terrorize professors you don’t like,” he said. If the students follow his advice. Brown assured them, “I guarantee [Custred] will be a basket case by the end of the term.”

Though its influence may be waning almost everywhere, the left can still muster its forces to harass, threaten, and intimidate. Unfortunately for the left, most Californians are implacably hostile to affirmative action and the ideology behind it. According to a field poll conducted in September, almost 60 percent of Golden State voters who have heard of the initiative are in favor of it. If this figure is broken down along part}’ lines, the results are surprising: about threefourths of Republicans support the CCRI, and no fewer than 41 percent of Democrats side with them.

The racial breakdown is interesting, too. About two-thirds of white males are behind the initiative, and it enjoys the backing of some 44 percent of Latinos. While most blacks decry the measure as racist, about one in four of them endorses it. (This isn’t the first sign that the left can no longer depend on black support on any racial issue. According to the December 6, 1994, issue of the Village Voice, about half of California’s blacks voted for Proposition 187.)

Despite the acrimony of the left-wing activists, the CCRI may yet have a fighting chance. “To our knowledge,” says Custred in the August 8 Sacramento Bee, “no significant portion of the American electorate has yet been given a chance to vote its conscience” on affirmative action. Until now. Although Custred and Wood have managed to raise $450,000, they still need to cough up another million dollars to get their initiative on the November 1996 ballot.