By Celes King IV
Congress of Racial Equality California

Time and time again, Black voters in California are called upon to provide crucial support on either side of the various ballot measures we are presented with every Election Day. June 5 will be no different, and the so-called California Cancer Research Act is certain to be one of the most contentious statewide initiatives facing voters this year.

Supporters of the measure claim that it will raise a windfall of more than $700 million per year for cancer research by adding a $1 tax to each pack of cigarettes sold in the state. Although I believe this to be an important issue, with African Americans disproportionately affected by tobacco-related cancers, I cannot support this proposed law as it is written. With Black Californians still not sufficiently empowered to maneuver within the political system as it exists today, it would be ill-advised for us to play a part in creating a new bureaucracy that contains no specific protections for the interests of our community.

As proposed, the tax dollars generated by Proposition 29 would be allocated by an unaccountable commission of political appointees, with no guarantee of diversity in a state where the specific needs of Black people have been historically underrepresented or flat-out ignored.

Furthermore, at a time when economic development and unemployment remain the most critical issues facing the African American electorate, Proposition 29 asks us to get behind a new law that would almost assuredly result in more tax dollars leaving the state.

My father always taught me that in the search for truth, it is wisest to follow the money. I understand why tobacco companies located anywhere would oppose this initiative –it’s in the interest of protecting their customers, who would have a more difficult time purchasing their product when faced with a new expense. But why, for example, is Lance Armstrong, the famed cyclist whose foundation is based in Texas, one of the leading proponents of this measure? His involvement, and that of others with no strong ties to California, lends credence to the real possibility that out-of-state organizations stand to benefit greatly from a new tax imposed on some of this state’s most underserved populations.

Now, I am not attacking anyone who seeks to find a cure for cancer. That is obviously a worthy goal. However, I am highly suspicious of any proposition that contains so many potential negative impacts on our community but provides no mechanism for voters to exercise any oversight if the dollars aren’t spent as promised. In that light, our best move is to vote no on Proposition 29.

Celes King IV is the vice chairman for of the Congress of Racial Equality California, CORE. CORE was instrumental in renaming Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in South Los Angeles, and is the principal sponsor of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in Los Angeles, which has grown to be the largest Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration in the country, with 3.5 million viewers.

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