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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Edit: Prop. 200, eat your heart out”

    As the days draw closer to Tuesday’s city elections, the lion’s share of local media coverage is focused on the battle over boneheaded Proposition 200. But as Tucsonans argue over the dubious and debatable water scheme, an equally controversial ballot initiative is beginning to take shape behind the scenes.

    Ward Connerly, an outspoken critic of affirmative-action programs, hopes that Arizona will be the next state to ban racial preferences in hiring employees, granting contracts and admitting students to universities. A former member of the California Board of Regents, Connerly has campaigned on behalf of successful bans on affirmative-action programs in California, Washington, and Michigan.

    This week, the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, an arm of Connerly’s national organization, the American Civil Rights Institute, filed paperwork with the Arizona Secretary of State requesting the go-ahead to begin collecting signatures for a ballot initiative declaring that “”the state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”” If 230,047 Arizona voters sign a petition by July 3, the initiative will appear on the November 2008 ballot.

    Arizona’s not the only state with a possible affirmative action proposition. Preparations for similar ballot measures are also underway in Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma as part of a nationally organized campaign against affirmative-action programs. Supporters are planning a “”super Tuesday on affirmative action”” throughout all five states.

    The debate over the merits of affirmative-action programs is a significant one that the American people must face. And although Connerly is often derided by many of his critics as a bigoted turncoat – especially because of his own multiracial background – those characterizations are unfair. He is an eloquent advocate for his cause, who has largely grounded his arguments in reason rather than pretense. However, his newest proposals seem designed to take advantage of political conveniences, rather than encourage public discussion over the role of affirmative action.

    All five states in which the initiatives are being proposed – especially Arizona – have been home to significant political backlash against illegal immigration. Harnessing the vitriolic debate over immigration in the service of an anti-affirmative action campaign would be easy to do – but also politically disingenuous. However, that seems to be precisely Mr. Connerly’s goal. In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education this week, he noted that “”many of those who defend granting rights to illegal immigrants happen to be, coincidentally, those who support race-based

    affirmative action.””

    More important, Arizona has few affirmative-action schemes already in place. The text of the proposed initiative makes it seem as if Arizona already has widespread preferential treatment policies. But state officials currently accord no preference in hiring or contracting, and Arizona’s public universities do not consider race when making admission decisions. At best, the proposed initiative would affect Arizona’s public law schools (which do consider racial background as part of a larger application process) and a few magnet-school programs across the state. The law would have little actual effect, but likely mislead and polarize an already acerbic public discussion.

    It’s time for sensible debate over affirmative-action programs. But conflating them with the caustic conflict over illegal immigration is no more than a sneaky trick. The people of Arizona should be smart enough to avoid falling for it.

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