Affirmative action targeted
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 27, 2007
Group hopes to place plan on Arizona ballot Matthew Benson
Race, sex and other factors would be off the table when it comes to government
hires and university admissions in Arizona under a ballot measure proposed
The anti-affirmative-action effort, titled the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative,
will appear on the November 2008 ballot if supporters can collect the necessary
230,047 valid signatures.
It would prohibit everything from government contracting that gives preferences
to minority-owned businesses to universities that consider race and ethnicity in
student admissions. Private businesses would be unaffected.
The effort is led by Ward Connerly, a former University of California regent who
has successfully shepherded similar measures in California, Washington and
Michigan. Connerly, who is Black, said government shouldn't be in the practice
of offering preferences based upon appearance.
"My skin shouldn't matter to you," he told onlookers who gathered at the Capitol
for the announcement. "Yours doesn't matter to me."
The practical impact of the initiative, should it pass, is unknown, even to
Connerly. Arizona's three major public universities - Arizona State University,
the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University - have said they don't
take race or ethnicity into account in student admissions.
Valley governments are a mix when it comes to their hiring practices.
Maricopa County doesn't use race or ethnicity as a factor, nor do the
municipalities of Tempe or Gilbert.
Among vendors and businesses that hope to contract with Phoenix, the city sets
goals for their hiring of women and minorities.
Glendale considers a person's ethnic background along with his or her
qualifications. Glendale's city manager, Ed Beasley, is Black, and the city has
high-level administrators of Latino, Pakistani and Caribbean descent.
Beasley defended the city's hiring practices, saying it is about aiding
minorities who historically have been treated unfairly. "People aren't looking
for set-asides. They're looking for equalization."
Thomas speaks up
But Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas argued that government-sponsored
affirmative action has outlived its usefulness and become something that was
"These programs have grown into something that divides us, a system of inherited
preferences inconsistent with the American Dream," said Thomas, honorary
chairman of Connerly's Arizona campaign.
The battle lines were being drawn on Day 1.
Phoenix resident John Sharp, who is Black, said Connerly "has his blindfold on"
if he doesn't see racism in America and the continuing need for affirmative
"I taught my kids they need to work extra hard to maintain everything they
have," Sharp said.
Rep. Ben Miranda, D-Phoenix, accused Connerly of bringing his movement to
Arizona to benefit from racial unrest created by fears about illegal
"He's hitting what he feels to be the states with the strongest anti-immigrant
sentiment," Miranda said. "He's trying to capitalize on that and drive a deeper
wedge that divides people."
Connerly plans to also place his initiative on the 2008 ballot in Colorado,
Missouri, Oklahoma and at least one other state he wouldn't disclose.
The ballot effort figures to be emotional, and Rep. Chad Campbell,
D-Phoenix, called it "just another divisive initiative" that will distract
from more pressing matters.
Critics also worry it could inflame racial tensions in a state already
struggling with cultural shifts brought by illegal immigration.
Connerly brushed aside such fears, noting that "racial tensions are already
"This is something that I think will go a long way toward getting a
colorblind society," said T.J. Shope, who is Latino and president of the
College Republicans at ASU.
Sharp is doubtful. When can affirmative action be shelved? "When God comes
Republic reporters Yvonne Wingett, Carrie Watters, Casey Newton, Katie
Nelson and Michael Walbert contributed to this article.