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Race initiative

A proposed ballot initiative that would bar the state from classifying people by race is backed by nearly half of California voters, but most also say they don't know much about it, a new poll says.

Conservatives champion the "Racial Privacy Initiative" as a step toward a colorblind society. Liberals blast it as an attempt to undermine anti-discrimination laws.

The poll, released yesterday by the Field Institute, is the first independent poll on the initiative, which could be on the ballot as early as November.

Of the 546 likely voters who were polled, barely a quarter said they had heard of the initiative.

Still, 48 percent of those polled said they supported it and 34 percent said they opposed it, with 18 percent undecided. The poll had a 4.5 percent margin of error.

Reno's silence

Florida gubernatorial candidate Janet Reno doesn't change her message when she appears before foreign journalists - she dodges the hard questions just as she does when she is before a troop of U.S. reporters.

In Whistler, British Columbia, for a two-day law-enforcement conference on terrorism and technology, President Clinton's attorney general refused to answer questions about September 11, according to a report in the Vancouver Province.

In an interview that was "tightly controlled," Miss Reno "would not talk about the political outcome of the September 11 attacks, including whether people arrested and held in detention are being treated fairly. She also wouldn't comment about issues that would lead her into criticism of the government of U.S. President George W. Bush."

She did say that she fears a "cyberspace Pearl Harbor unless action is taken quickly to protect vital technologies that are vulnerable to a growing threat of cyberterrorism."

Miss Reno was criticized during her March political trek through Florida for dodging questions about September 11 and other issues. Apparently, she is still "on message" when it comes to the press north of the border.

Wheels of justice

"There's a chance Peter Kirsanow will take his rightful seat at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights before its next meeting on May 17 - but only if three federal-appeals-court judges hearing arguments [yesterday] in the case against civil-rights commissioner Victoria Wilson issue a speedy ruling," John J. Miller writes at National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com).

"There's no reason they shouldn't. Wilson's term as a Clinton appointee to the commission ended last November. She didn't serve a full six-year term on the panel because she was chosen to complete the tenure of the late Leon Higginbotham. All of Wilson's official paperwork indicated that her term would expire; when it did, President Bush named Cleveland labor lawyer Peter Kirsanow to the post," Mr. Miller noted.

"But Wilson refused to budge. Her liberal allies on the commission, including chairwoman Mary Frances Berry, backed her up. They claimed that Wilson is entitled to a full six-year term, not merely the remainder of Higginbotham's. This is a bizarre interpretation of the law, but in February a federal judge actually bought it and said that Wilson could serve until 2006.

"That decision stands a very good chance of being overturned by the three judges considering the appeal [yesterday]. Yet Wilson, who is the defendant in the case, has excellent legal representation - secured for her by taxpayer funds. The commission has intervened on her behalf and bought the services of Ted Wells, a high-priced criminal lawyer perhaps best known for defending former agriculture secretary Mike Espy. Because the federal government is suing Wilson to quit her post, it means tax dollars are paying for both the prosecution and the defense. …