Victory on Equal Opportunity
Feature Story by Tyler Lewis - 11/6/2008
On November 4, Colorado became the first state to reject a ballot initiative that would have amended their state constitution to ban equal opportunity initiatives in the higher education, employment, and contracting.
"This is a huge victory for Colorado, and for the country," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "It is confirmation that the ideal of equal opportunity is core to who we are as a nation."
The vote on the initiative, Amendment 46, caps a year that saw a shift in the 12-year fight over equal opportunity programs. Similar anti-equal opportunity initiatives in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma all failed to qualify for their state ballots this year.
Ward Connerly, a California businessman and former University of California regent, had planned to introduce and enact ballot initiatives amending constitutions in five states – Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma – that would eliminate equal opportunity initiatives in higher education, employment, and contracting, but his initiatives only achieved ballot placement in Colorado and Nebraska.
Connerly had been successful with similar initiatives in California in 1996, Washington in 1998, and Michigan in 2006.
"We managed to get the truth out to Colorado voters through an incredible grassroots effort, where we had hundreds of volunteers from many organizations who spent thousands of hours going door to door and making phone calls, just talking to people and telling them the truth about this amendment and what it would have done to equal opportunity in Colorado," said Linda Meric, Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, Co-Chair of Colorado Unity, and Co-Chair of the Vote NO on Amendment 46 campaign, in a statement.
Equal opportunity supporters say that this year's success is due a comprehensive strategy, including building greater awareness of the fraudulent and deceptive tactics Connerly supporters use to get their initiatives on the ballot.
Lawsuits brought against Connerly and his supporters in all five of his targeted states by civil rights groups and state coalitions in support of equal opportunity were heavily publicized by state newspapers and created a very different climate for Connerly and his supporters than in the past.
In Nebraska voters passed the anti-equal opportunity Initiative 424. Nebraskans United, a coalition of civil rights and civic organizations and equal opportunity supporters, filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of some of the signatures that qualified the initiative for the ballot. The lawsuit is still pending.
If the court finds that there were not enough valid signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot, the November 4 vote on the initiative will be invalidated.