California conservative Ward Connerly chalked up another victory Tuesday in his assault on affirmative action programs, as Michigan voters approved a ballot initiative that bans affirmative action in state contracting and employment and public university admissions.
Connerly’s proposal won by a substantial margin, although courts are expected to play a role in deciding the scope of the ban.
“It’s a very simple principle that people think the law should be impartial and can be impartial,” said Mickey Craig, chairman of the political science department of conservative Hillsdale College, explaining the outcome of voting on the controversial proposal. “They think everybody ought to be judged on the same thing, not race and gender,” said Craig, a Republican who supported the proposal and echoed the sentiments of other backers.
Proposal 2, which was opposed by a broad coalition of the Michigan “establishment” including the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates, would “ban affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes.”
Michigan is the third state, after California and Washington, to ban affirmative action.
Governor Jennifer Granholm, the liberal Democrat who handily won re-election over conservative Republican Dick De Vos, had said passage of Proposal 2 “would be a devastating blow for Michigan women,” echoing a chorus of other opponents who sought to broaden public awareness of the sweep of Connerly’s proposal beyond race.
DeVos, whose father founded Amway products, called the initiative “wrong for the state.”
Despite the high profile opposition, Proposal 2 passed on a combination of confusion over its actual meaning and deeply rooted concern about self-interest in a state that has lost tens of thousands of jobs in the past four years. The results left opponents stumped, given the decisive victories by incumbent Democratic liberals Granholm and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, who also opposed Proposal 2.
“It shows how deeply conflicted we remain about race in this country,” said Terry Barclay, president and CEO of Inforum, formerly the Women’s Economic Club of Michigan. “Major private employers don’t see their practices being impacted at all, they’re not going to change their practices. The area where it will hurt hardest is university admissions. People are very concerned.”
Separately, The Associated Press reported a majority of voters who said their families were doing well financially supported the proposal. According to a statistical analysis based on voter interviews conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, a majority of voters who said they were struggling financially opposed Proposal 2.
Connerly and his Michigan campaign, The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative headed by Jennifer Gratz, were quiet last night as election results on the state’s ballot issues slowly trickled in. Gratz had sued the University of Michigan over its use of race in admissions policies.
The campaigns for and against Proposal 2 were under the radar of most Michigan citizens until late October when proponents and opponents got significant home stretch infusions of money to raise the issue to a higher profile.
Yard signs for and against Proposal 2, scarce around most of the state until late October, began cropping up everywhere as voting day approached.
The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative began running a 30-second television ad featuring Connerly and Gratz. In the commercial, Connerly says “…affirmative action has become corrupt and unfair…” and Gratz proclaims, “ …working people are passed over for diversity…”
One United Michigan, the umbrella organization of Proposal 2 opponents, countered with its own set of ads, most of them aimed at reminding voters the proposal was more than a Black and White issue. The group claimed passage of Proposal 2 would have a dramatic and negative impact on the state’s female population, putting at risk health care and education programs aimed at women.
One United Michigan also found a video early this month in which Connerly praises reports that the Ku Klux Klan supported Proposal 2. “If the Ku Klux Klan thinks equality is right, God bless them,” Connerly said in the interview. “Thank them for finally reaching the point where logic and reason are applying instead of hate.” The clip, taken from a documentary by John Valadez, was posted by One United Michigan on YouTube and widely distributed across the state in an effort to discredit Connerly and Proposal 2.
While state and local officials waited to analyze the demographics of Tuesday’s voting and determine the true impact on Proposal 2, the Citizens Research Council (CRC), a respected state think tank, issued its assessment ahead of the election.
“If the amendment is adopted, it will not outlaw all affirmative action programs in the state,” the CRC said. “Michigan statutes contain numerous references to affirmative action and minority status or gender. Only those that grant preferential treatment to individuals or groups on the basis of minority status or gender would be invalidated by this amendment. However, what constitutes preferential treatment will be left to the Michigan court system,” the research council concluded.
Proposal 2, approved by the voters 58 percent to 42 percent, according to AP, now heads to the courts for interpretation.
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