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Twenty-five years ago, Gene Hale, president of a Gardena construction company, was selling more than $8 million a year in cranes, forklifts and concrete to help build freeways from San Diego to Sacramento.

But in 1996, when Californians approved Proposition 209, outlawing affirmative action for Black-owned companies like his, “that wrecked procurement with the state,” he said. Hale’s business with public agencies, which accounted for about 10% of his revenue, “basically went down to zero.”

A quarter-century later, California, the first of several states to bar race- and gender-based programs, is one of the first to revisit the issue. An initiative on the November ballot, Proposition 16, would repeal the 1996 measure.

The proposed turnabout comes as debates over racial and gender equity have exploded nationwide in the wake of police violence against Black and Latino people and sexual harassment scandals at the highest levels of business and government.

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