The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

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The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Setbacks for Connerly

Feature Story by Tyler Lewis - 4/16/2008

California businessman and former University of California Regent Ward Connerly's state-based campaign to end equal opportunity programs suffered setbacks in Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Arizona in recent weeks.

Following the passage of the anti-affirmative action ballot initiative in Michigan in 2006, Connerly announced his plan to introduce and enact ballot initiatives amending constitutions in five states – Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma – that would eliminate equal opportunity programs in higher education, employment, and contracting. 

Similar Connerly-sponsored initiatives were passed by voters in California in 1996 and Washington in 1998.

Affirmative action advocates in the five states battling Connerly's efforts have been mobilizing coalitions and other efforts in support of equal opportunity programs

Withdrawal in Oklahoma

On April 4, Connerly and his local allies filed a motion to withdraw their anti-affirmative action initiative, the so-called Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative (OCRI), from the November ballot, indicating that they failed to collect the 138,970 valid signatures required to qualify the initiative for the ballot. 

The motion comes after the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (NAACP-LDF) filed a petition challenging the validity of the signatures.

The suit charged that the signature count was invalid because many of the signatures were not from legal Oklahoma voters and were not properly verified or notarized. Also, some of the petitions were circulated by people who were not legal residents of Oklahoma, in violation of state law.

The Oklahoma State Supreme Court has not yet heard the ACLU/NAACP-LDF motion.

Affirmative action supporters say that OCRI's withdrawal from the ballot is significant because it highlights the organization's use of voter fraud and other deceptive practices to collect signatures in support of their initiatives. Similar allegations have been made in Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska.

In fact, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission released a report in June 2006 that documented Connerly's "highly coordinated, systematic strategy" to deceive voters across the state in order to get the initiative on the Michigan ballot. 

"What has happened in Oklahoma is particularly significant as it highlights again the lengths to which Connerly and his supporters will go in order to get these initiatives on the ballot," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Connerly blamed his decision to withdraw his initiative on the state's "process."

Legislatures Support Equal Opportunity

Recently, in Arizona and Nebraska, Connerly and his allies lost significant political battles in the state legislatures.

In Arizona, a resolution (HCR 2041) to refer Connerly's initiative to the ballot was defeated (32-27) in the House on April 8.  In Nebraska, a similar bill was pulled in late February by its sponsor, State Senator Mark Christensen, because it lacked political support.

Both measures would have saved Connerly the resources and political support needed to gather signatures and have them certified through the state's ballot initiative process.

Connerly and his allies have until July 3 to collect the 230,047 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot in Arizona.  They have to collect 115,000 signatures in Nebraska by July 4.

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