Having conquered California a decade ago and Michigan last year, affirmative action critic Ward Connerly now has his sights set on the Show-Me State.
The former University of California regent was a key force behind that state’s successful ballot measure banning consideration of race and gender in public hiring, contracting and school admissions.
Washington state voters passed a similar law in 1998, as did Michigan voters in 2006.
Missouri is one of five states Connerly and his supporters are targeting as part of a concerted effort to strike down affirmative action laws during a so-called “Super Tuesday for Equal Rights” in 2008. Ballot initiatives are also being organized in Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Nebraska
On Thursday, Connerly touted his plan at two events in Kansas City, including a lecture at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He was scheduled to speak Friday in St. Louis.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Connerly, who is Black, called for an end to “race-based affirmative action” in favor of what he called “socio-economic affirmative action.”
“We’re going through a transition in our country,” he said. “We need to help those who need it rather than presuming that all Black people or all minorities are in need of some special treatment.”
To get the so-called Missouri Civil Rights Initiative on the November 2008 ballot, supporters must collect roughly 150,000 signatures from registered voters in the state.
Before that can happen, a Cole County judge must rule on dueling legal complaints over a ballot summary prepared by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan for the proposed constitutional amendment.
Tim Asher, former admissions director at North Central Missouri College who is leading the ballot effort, filed a suit in July charging that the ballot summary “uses argumentative language” and misrepresents the proposed amendment.
The Carnahan summary says the proposal would “ban affirmative action programs designed to eliminate discrimination against … women and minorities in public contracting, employment and education.”
Asher’s suit wants the state to change the summary to ask voters whether Missouri should forbid “preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin” in those same three areas.
Supporters of current affirmative action laws also have sued Carnahan, noting that the suggested ballot language fails to tell voters the measure would allow discrimination on the basis of religion, disability, age or veteran status.
A combined hearing on the two suits had been set for late October but is now scheduled for Dec. 17.
Connerly said the delay could wind up making for a costly campaign by the American Civil Rights Coalition, the group in Sacramento, Calif., that he leads. He called the ballot summary “prejudicial” and “perverse” and suggested political bias on the part of Carnahan, a Democrat.
A Carnahan spokesman said the secretary of state was simply following the law, not injecting any personal or political beliefs into the process.
“As with all ballot summaries that we submit, our office is confident that this summary is fair, accurate and reflects how the constitution would be changed by this initiative if it got on the ballot and was passed by voters,” said spokesman Ryan Hobart.
Connerly’s group initially had targeted several other states as possible affirmative action battlegrounds in 2008, including South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. He rejected any suggestion that the five states were chosen with political considerations in mind.
“There’s no political or racial calculus involved,” Connerly said. “We have to entrust our fellow man with the responsibility of passing laws that are presumed to be in the best interests of the whole community.”
Affirmative action supporters say that Connerly and others have distorted the public dialogue and downplayed the historical forces of discrimination that led to such laws as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“It takes more than 30 or 40 years to remedy, or overcome, centuries of direct and indirect forms of discrimination,” said Shirley Wilcher, executive director of the American Association for Affirmative Action and a former Labor Department official under President Clinton.
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