A California activist and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced on April 26 they will be initiating a ballot initiative effort to ban race and gender based affirmative action programs and policies in Arizona.
Arizona is one of four states targeted for anti-affirmative action initiatives in 2008 elections by Ward Connerly, chairman of the Sacramento-based American Civil Rights Institute.
He contends affirmative action policies implemented to offset historical oppression of minority groups are now “inconsistent with the American dream” and have helped foster racial divide and animosity by selecting or privileging on the basis of race.
“It’s morally wrong; it’s poisonous socially,” said Connerly, who has led successful similar drives in California, Washington, and most recently, Michigan.
The California native was unable to mention specific programs in Arizona that would be eliminated if the initiative should pass, but promised all race and gender preferences in the state down to contracts for “mosquito abatement” would disappear.
***Democrats already lined up in opposition***
Several Democratic state representatives in opposition to the yet-to-be-launched initiative banning race and gender preferences for public employment, public education and public contracts attended the press conference at the Capitol.
Connerly traded barbs with Rep. Ben Miranda, D-16, who interrupted the speaker’s responses to media questions to attack Connerly’s use of the phrase “civil rights.” He said race is not the sole factor considered under affirmative action policies.
He further said the initiative would have harmful effects on public schools when Connerly loudly interjected, “Is there a question some place in here?”
The clash continued as he assailed the notion that affirmative action programs are part of citizens’ civil rights, as evident by the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“It did not say single out blacks or Hispanics or anyone else,” said Connerly, who earlier in the week launched similar efforts in Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-15, announced she would be forming a coalition to combat the effort, calling its title Arizona Civil Rights Initiative “ridiculous” and contending it would roll back hard-fought civil rights achievements.
“I’m looking forward to another win,” said Sinema, who was instrumental in defeating a 2006 ballot initiative that would have defined marriage as an act between a man and woman and barred state and local governments from granting legal status similar to marriage to unwed couples.
Non-minorities are not harmed by race and gender based preferences because they already make up the majority of student populations at colleges and universities. Racial quotas are also not used in the state, said Sinema.
“It’s about making sure we have an appropriate level of diversity,” said Sinema, who credited gender preferences with her getting accepted into law school.
Thomas, it was announced, will serve as the group’s honorary chairman. At the conference he said he was considering whether the initiative would seek to ban separate probation programs used by the Maricopa County Superior Court for Native Americans and Spanish speakers.