'Antipreference' Campaigns Heat Up: Ward Connerly Is Working to End Affirmative Action Programs in Five States, but Opponents Are Fighting Back

By Stuart, Reginald | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, April 3, 2008 | Go to article overview

'Antipreference' Campaigns Heat Up: Ward Connerly Is Working to End Affirmative Action Programs in Five States, but Opponents Are Fighting Back


Stuart, Reginald, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


There are no massive crowds at his rallies and no news media entourages documenting his every word and move. Still, Ward Connerly, champion of the nation's "antipreference" movement, is busy revving up his "Super Tuesday Equal Rights Campaign," hoping for another knockout punch to the nation's affirmative action programs for minorities and women.

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Connerly has been campaigning in five states--Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma--seeking to get sufficient voter support to get his proposed constitutional amendment on their respective state's November election day ballot. If he succeeds, voters would be asked this fall to decide whether their state's constitution should include language prohibiting so-called "preferential treatment" for racial minorities and women in the admissions policies of state-controlled colleges and universities and in the awarding of contracts by state and local government bodies.

"Once we get on the ballot, I think we've won," says Connerly, a California businessman who has succeeded in persuading voters in California, Michigan and Washington state to approve constitutional language similar to what he is promoting this year. "When people read the language, they are apt to vote for it," Connerly says confidently in a telephone interview with Diverse.

Connerly's string of successes has mobilized traditional civil rights advocates and others who support affirmative action in these states. They too are organizing, hoping to blunt his momentum and persuade voters to keep intact programs they say help level the playing field for minorities and women.

"When I learned Ward Connerly was coming to Arizona to destroy the system we have, that really bothered me," says Kyrsten Sinema, coordinator of Protect Arizona Freedom, the umbrella organization of groups closing ranks to oppose Connerly. Sinema, a Democratic state legislator representing central Phoenix, says the impact of Connerly's ballot initiative passing would be "colossal."

She says the state would be forced to abandon its small program for minority and women contractors and eliminate a variety of programs at the state's public colleges aimed at helping minorities and women.

Sinema ticks off a short list of possible victims of a Connerly win. They include the Women in Science and Engineering Program, a project at the three state universities that provides technical and financial support for women pursuing careers in these fields. Another casualty would be the Hispanic Mother Daughter Program, a project that works with Hispanic girls and their mothers from seventh grade through 12th, helping both learn skills and giving them access to programs and people who can help them become productive adults.

"I would hate to see students denied these opportunities," says Sinema. "When Arizonans know the truth, they will vote against this."

For sure, Connerly has his work cut out for him. What might have looked like a jigsaw puzzle when he launched his campaign in California nearly a decade ago now works like a lean, mean machine. His well-financed campaign in all five states this year is based on the same blueprint, with customized changes to fit the legal landscape of each state.

Connerly campaign committees in each state have essentially the same name, but varied petition requirements. …

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