Connerly Anti-Equal Opportunity Initiative Fails to Make Ballot in Arizona; Initiatives in Remaining States Face Strong Opposition
Feature Story by Jake Liscow - 8/25/2008
On August 21, Arizona became the latest state where Ward Connerly has failed in his crusade to end equal opportunity programs. Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer disqualified Connerly's anti-equal opportunity ballot initiative due to a lack of valid signatures.
Connerly targeted five states with his anti-equal opportunity ballot initiatives this year. Earlier efforts in Oklahoma and Missouri failed to gain ballot placement, and supporters of equal opportunity have succeeded in creating strong opposition to Connerly's deceptive campaigns in Colorado and Nebraska.
Connerly, a California businessman and president of the anti-equal opportunity American Civil Rights Institute, is attempting to amend state constitutions through the ballot initiative process. If enough valid signatures are submitted by each state's qualification deadline, the proposed amendments would appear on the November ballot and could be passed by a majority of each state's voters.
The amendments would ban equal opportunity programs in higher education, employment and contracting, but the ballot text is deceptively written to make voters think that the amendment is in support of civil rights. Connerly has had past success with anti-equal opportunity ballot initiatives in California, Michigan, and Washington.
In July, Connerly's "Arizona Civil Rights Initiative" submitted over 330,000 signatures to place their anti-equal opportunity Proposition 104 on the Arizona ballot.
The pro-equal opportunity coalition Protect Arizona's Freedom (PAF) filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of over 100,000 of those signatures, alleging deceptive and fraudulent signature-gathering tactics.
Last week, the secretary of state threw out more than 40 percent of the submitted signatures, leaving Connerly short of the 230,047 signatures required to get on the ballot.
"We're not surprised," said state Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D. Phoenix, chair of PAF. "We've highlighted time and again the illegal and deceptive signature-gathering tactics used by Connerly's organization and the Georgia National Ballot Access firm to force the initiative on Arizona and other states."
National Ballot Access, a signature-gathering firm, was hired by Connerly to circulate petitions in all five of the targeted states. In each state, the firm faced allegations of using similar tactics of fraud and deception to collect signatures for Connerly's initiative.
In July, Connerly submitted signatures in Nebraska in an attempt to qualify his "civil rights initiative" for the November ballot. The initiative was certified by the Nebraska secretary of state on August 22, but still faces legal challenges.
The pro-equal opportunity coalition Nebraskans United has filed a lawsuit challenging the signatures submitted and alleging fraudulent signature collection practices. The coalition has also filed a challenge on the ballot title of the "civil rights initiative," arguing that it may mislead voters into thinking that the initiative supports equal opportunity and civil rights.
Nebraska law requires a ruling on any lawsuits by September 1 to allow time for ballots to be printed before the election.
On August 4, a pro-equal opportunity group, Coloradans for Equal Opportunity, submitted nearly 116,000 signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State in an attempt to put the Colorado Equal Opportunity Initiative (Initiative 82) on the ballot. This is the first time supporters of equal opportunity have introduced their own measure to counter one of Connerly's anti-equal opportunity initiatives on the ballot.
The Colorado secretary of state certified Connerly's ballot initiative in March.
The initiative proposed by Coloradans for Equal Opportunity affirms the fact that quotas have already been ruled illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court, but maintains that other equal opportunity initiatives, such as apprenticeship or summer job programs, should be permitted to continue in Colorado as allowed by the Supreme Court.
"We believe that if people understood the way race and gender are taken into account as part of a comprehensive evaluation of a person, that wouldn't trouble them," said Melissa Hart, a professor at the University of Colorado and president of Coloradans for Equal Opportunity.
Hart hopes to distinguish equal opportunity from the use of quotas with this strategy that reportedly has Connerly's camp fuming.