Next year, Arizona voters will decide whether to ban government use of preferential treatment based on race and gender when it comes to employment, education and contracting.
On June 22, the Senate passed SCR1031 in a 17-11 party-line vote favoring the Republican majority. The measure mimics a 2008 ballot initiative effort that was ultimately disqualified due to a lack of sufficient number of valid signatures of Arizona voters.
The 2008 measure, dubbed the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, was led by former California Board of Regent Ward Connerly.
After the proposal received approval from the Senate, Connerly held a press conference with several legislators in support of the ballot referendum.
Connerly, who is black, said proposals that ban preferential treatment programs based on race and gender do so in the “mirror” image of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed racial segregation and solidified equal rights for all citizens.
“This is government that we’re allowing to discriminate on race and gender,” said Connerly, adding, “It isn’t reverse discrimination, it’s discrimination.”
But examples of recent incidents of discrimination provide ample reason to protect preferential-treatment programs most commonly described as affirmative action, said Rep. Cloves Campbell Jr., whose father in 1966 became the state’s first black state senator.
Recently, a county judge ruled discrimination played a factor in a bi-racial couple’s dispute with a Phoenix homeowners’ association, while a self-identified white supremacist stormed the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., with the intention of killing minorities, Campbell said, adding both events make it impossible that racism doesn’t exist among “people of power.”
Campbell said he believed that racial preference programs are necessary to counter the fact that blacks have been “held back for 400 years” in the United States, while they have only been allotted “40 years to catch up.”
“Overall, it’s still not time to do it,” said Campbell, of the premise of rolling back racial and gender preference programs. “I don’t think the playing field has been leveled.”
Connerly’s legislative efforts were led by Rep. Steve Montenegro, a freshman lawmaker from Litchfield Park, and Sen. Russell Pearce of Mesa. Both introduced identical referendums, although Pearce’s version was substituted in place of Montenegro’s on the Senate floor.
Montenegro said he believed the referendum will eliminate racial- and gender-preference programs operated by the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, and others in use by Arizona’s universities.
The preferential programs send minorities a message that they are inferior and in need of special treatment to be successful, he said.
“I’m appalled that my government thinks of me as a subclass,” Montenegro said.
Connerly told reporters the referendum for the 2010 ballot does not include provisions that apply equal treatment for gays and lesbians because he feared courts would spend “decades” determining whether sexuality constitutes a civil right.
The passing of the referendum frees the American Civil Rights Coalition from the costly expense of financing signature collections for a citizens’ ballot initiative and allows more money to be devoted to waging a public perception ballot to pass the referendum.
Connerly said he would devote money to see a “decisive” victory for the referendum in 2010.
“I don’t want to win by a squeaker,” said Connerly, who is seeking similar reforms in Missouri, Oklahoma and Colorado, where opponents of preferential programs narrowly lost at the ballot in 2008.
Campbell pledged to oppose the referendum in 2010 and said he has already spoken with several leaders of the black community to make a stand, including the Rev. Oscar Tillman of the Arizona Chapter of the NAACP, Greater Phoenix Urban League President George Dean and officials with the Greater Phoenix Black Chamber of Commerce.
Campbell said Connerly’s failure to qualify his ballot initiative in 2008 is proof that his idea lacks the necessary support among Arizona voters.