Connerly Suffers Setbacks as Civil Rights Groups Claim Victories in the Fight to Protect Equal Opportunity
Feature Story by Angela Okamura - 5/29/2008
Recent setbacks in Oklahoma and Missouri, along with continuing pressure from civil rights groups and other equal opportunity supporters, have begun to turn the tide on Ward Connerly's attempt to ban equal opportunity programs in five states this year.
Following the 2006 passage of an anti-equal opportunity ballot initiative in Michigan, Connerly, a California businessman and former University of California regent, announced his plans to introduce ballot initiatives to amend the state constitutions of Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. The proposed amendments would eliminate equal opportunity programs in higher education, employment, and contracting.
A ballot initiative is a way for voters to bypass the state legislature to pass a law or constitutional amendment. If a certain number of registered voters sign a petition, and other requirements are met, the initiative will appear on a state-wide ballot for popular vote. The number of signatures required to qualify for ballot access varies by state.
Connerly's plan, billed as a "Super Tuesday" of anti-equal opportunity ballot initiatives, is sponsored by Connerly's American Civil Rights Coalition. The organization, like the ballot initiatives, uses the phrase "civil rights" and other misleading language to confuse voters into thinking the initiatives support equal opportunity.
However, this plan has turned out to be harder than Connerly and his supporters had expected, as they have faced a number of setbacks in recent weeks. Equal opportunity and civil rights advocates have been working to thwart his efforts in the five states with legal challenges and by calling attention to the deceptive practices used by Connerly and his supporters to obtain the signatures needed for ballot placement.
On April 4, Connerly's organization in Oklahoma asked to withdraw their initiative from that state's ballot after the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit challenging irregularities in the signatures submitted and in the content of the initiative itself.
Connerly was unsuccessful in Missouri as well, failing to gather the required number of signatures by the May 5 deadline. He even had so much difficulty finding people to circulate his petitions that he emailed the National Review, a conservative magazine, offering to pay people from other states to come to Missouri and collect signatures.
In Colorado, Connerly submitted signatures by the March deadline in an attempt to qualify his initiative for the ballot in that state, but the validity of the signatures is being challenged in the Denver District Court by the No on 46 Campaign. The coalition argues that the signatures should be invalidated because they were gathered through fraudulent activities, including deceiving voters of the actual effects of the initiative.
The Denver District Court's decision on the validity of the signatures is expected in the coming weeks.
"People are catching on to Connerly's shell game," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR). "His initiatives are written to make people think they're supporting affirmative action, while cynically doing away with it. This is the beginning of the end."
In Arizona and Nebraska, attempts by state legislators to allow Connerly to bypass the petition process by placing his anti-equal opportunity initiatives directly on the ballot were unsuccessful. In both states, Connerly faces an early July deadline to collect and submit the signatures needed to place his initiative on the November ballot.