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Mascot vote passes California Assembly

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - For backers of a bill to ban mascots with American Indian themes, the third time proved to be a charm. After failing in two previous attempts to pass the California State Assembly, a watered-down version of the bill finally made it through the Assembly.

The bill passed by a 43 to 20 margin, just two votes over the required 41 needed to pass the lower chamber of the California legislature. It is interesting to note that 17 Assembly members also abstained from voting on the bill.

However, the original scope of the bill was significantly narrowed as a compromise to garner more support for the bill. Originally, author Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, had intended to ban all uses of American Indian mascots and team names from the state's high schools and colleges.

The final version of the bill that passed winnowed that down to just banning the name "Redskins," seen by many anti-mascots as the most offensive of the currently used mascot names. The deal was made the day the final version made the floor vote when Goldberg gathered a group that had lobbied for the bill and told them that the original bill did not have enough support.

There are currently five schools in the state of California that use the name "Redskins," mainly in or near the Central Valley.

The bill also received last minute support from Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City, who had indicated that she would support an earlier version of the bill and changed her vote at the last minute. Her wavering support of the bill made her the subject of vigorous lobbying by the bill's backers.

Garcia was the only Republican to vote in favor of the bill and the vote was largely along party lines. The only Democrat to break ranks and oppose the bill was Assemblywoman Carol Liu, D-Pasadena.

Richard Johnson, who works in Liu's office said Liu only voted against the measure because the new language, effecting only teams with the name "Redskins" was not yet put into the bill when the floor vote was taken. This was because of the last minute agreements and he said Liu would support the bill if and when it comes back from the state Senate where the bill is heading next.

Liu opposed the original bill because she has one school in her district, the Arcadia High School Apaches, that she said has the permission of the White Mountain Apache tribe to carry the name. Interestingly, this school was exempted in one of the earlier compromises of the bill.

"She (Liu) agrees that the term 'Redskins' is pejorative and racist, but she just wanted to see it in writing that that was the only name covered," Johnson said.

In fact, the Assembly essentially voted for the original bill with the promise that it would be amended in the state Senate, something also noted by other opponents of the bill.

The floor debate produced some curious moments. For example, Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, R-Monrovia, stood up to say that he agreed that the term "Redskins" was racially offensive. However, Mountjoy stopped short of supporting the bill because of fears of "incrementalism."

This was the same argument that was used by most of the Republican opposition and a term also used by bill opponent Assemblyman Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks. "Incrementalism" refers to the idea that by banning one term today, more will be banned later.

"If we start with schools, what's next? Are we going to go after streets," asked Kevin Bassett, chief of staff for Cox, who said his boss read off dozens of street names in Sacramento County alone that might be seen as offensive as well.

Furthermore, Bassett said that he is "amazed" that the legislature voted on the bill because it was still in its original form and claims that there is no guarantee that the bill will be changed there.

However, supporters of the bill dispute Bassett on this point and say that it is very unlikely that scenario would play out and that if this were the case the Senate would most likely not vote in favor of the bill.

For some supporters of the bill there were very mixed feelings. Cindy La Marr, president of the National Indian Education Association who has worked on this issue for several years said that she was disappointed to see that the bill barely passed the Assembly in a watered-down form.

"(After the vote) it took a few days to sink in and realize just how terribly racist our legislature is," said La Marr.

Others who worked in support of the bill said that it is a victory. Natalie Sites, Cheyenne River Lakota who works with the group Alliance Against Racial Mascots (ALLARM), a non-profit group, thinks that the compromise was a necessity.

"It was a victory and the compromise was necessary to move forward on this issue," Sites said.

The bill will head next to the state Senate where it will go through the education and appropriations committees. If passed there it will go to a floor vote and if passed would go on to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk for passage or veto.