|From the issue dated May 4, 2007|
4 States Named as New Targets in Affirmative-Action Fight
Critics of affirmative action announced last week efforts to get bans on racial and ethnic preferences on the ballots in four states — Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, and Oklahoma — as part of a plan to thrust the issue into the national spotlight in the November 2008 elections.
Ward Connerly, the prominent anti-affirmative-action activist who played a key role in the successful campaigns for similar measures in California in 1996, Washington State in 1998, and Michigan last fall, is advising the newly formed state campaign organizations and was on hand for each of last week's announcements. He said an additional state, either Nebraska or South Dakota, would soon be added to the list.
"Getting our nation to the point of applying a single standard to all Americans is one of the most crucial issues of our time," Mr. Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, said at the first of the press conferences held last week, in Denver. His group says it seeks to turn the November 4, 2008, election day into what it calls a "Super Tuesday for Equal Rights," with the goal of getting enough states to ban affirmative-action preferences in public-college admissions and other areas to send a clear message about their unpopularity to the nation's leaders.
Several civil-rights organizations are mobilizing efforts to battle the proposed ballot measures. For example, the Colorado Unity Coalition, consisting of about 40 business, civil-rights, religious, and labor organizations, held meetings to organize an opposition campaign there prior to last week's announcement. Bill Vandenberg, one of its leaders, said, "We believe we will be successful in educating Coloradans about the initiative and ensuring they know this initiative will do nothing to build Colorado's economy or our education system."
The Colorado Unity Coaliton formed 11 years ago to fight a similar measure that never gathered enough petition signatures to get on the ballot. Since then, the coalition has dissuaded the state legislature from adopting several bills to curtail affirmative action.
Mary A. Ratliff, president of the Missouri state conference of local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she planned to look to her organization's national leadership, as well as to other local and national civil-rights groups, for assistance. "We are going to bring in whoever we need to bring in to help us fight this fight," she said.
Wade J. Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a national coalition of nearly 200 civil-rights organizations, said he expected many of his group's members to enter the fray, either directly or through their state affiliates. "I don't think that any of these states are particularly easy marks for Connerly," he said.
Petition Challenges Likely
In all four of the states where press conferences were held last week, the proposed ballot measures have essentially the same wording. Their key operative clause reads: "The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." The state groups set up to campaign for the measures all have the words "Civil Rights Initiative" in their names.
At all four of last week's news conferences, Mr. Connerly cited the recent controvery over radio personality Don Imus's racist remarks and the wide acceptance of false accusations against Duke University lacrosse team players as examples of how "race will continue to divide our nation as long as we insist on treating people differently based on ethnicity or gender."
"We have to get past that kind of thinking," Mr. Connerly said, "and we must start by getting our government out of the business of privileging some citizens over others."
The executive director of the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative is Valery Pech Orr, who was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1995 Adarand Constructors v. Peña decision, which dealt with the use of affirmative action in awarding government contracts. Linda Chavez, the syndicated columnist and founder of the Center for Equal Opportunity, will serve as an honorary co-chairman of the campaign in Colorado, where she was raised.
In a written statement issued last week, Ms. Orr expressed confidence the measure will prevail, saying, "We in this state are individualists; racial and gender preferences run counter to our most basic values, and we expect that that will be made abundantly clear on November 4, 2008."
The Missouri Civil Rights Initiative is led by a former director of admissions at North Central Missouri College, Timothy P. Asher, who says the college refused to renew his contract in June 2004 because he had alleged that one of the institution's scholarship programs was discriminating against white students. In an interview last week, Neil G. Nuttall, president of North Central Missouri, said his institution's decision not to renew Mr. Asher's contract had nothing to do with the scholarship program. "The cause of his nonrenewal was insubordination," Mr. Nuttall said.
The organizations formed to direct the preference-ban campaigns must still gather enough petition signatures to get the measures on the ballots. A spokeswoman for the Detroit-based Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary, which filed several lawsuits challenging Michigan's preference ban, said her group plans to fight the measures in other states using one of the chief tactics it employed in Michigan: accusing those gathering petition signatures of voter fraud.
"We have had a fair amount of discussion with both civil-rights and lesbian and gay groups, and it is our view that what we have to do is stop these ballot initiatives before they get on the ballot," the spokeswoman, Shanta Driver, said last week.http://chronicle.com
Section: Government & Politics
Volume 53, Issue 35, Page A34