Several prominent critics of affirmative action announced in Denver today that they would seek to place a referendum banning racial, ethnic, and gender preferences on the ballot in Colorado in November 2008. And while the chief group leading the effort — the American Civil Rights Institute — has not yet formally announced its plans for other similar campaigns, it clearly intends to put such measures on the November 2008 ballot in Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, and one other yet-to-be-determined state as part of what it is calling a “Super Tuesday for Equal Rights.”
The Colorado effort is being overseen at the local level by a new group, called the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative. Its executive director, Valery Pech Orr, was one plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1995 decision Adarand Constructors v. Pena, which dealt with the use of affirmative action in awarding government contracts. In a written statement issued today, Ms. Orr expressed optimism that the proposed ban on affirmative-action preferences would pass there, just as similar measures were overwhelmingly adopted by voters in California in 1996, Washington State in 1998, and Michigan last fall.
A group calling itself the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative plans to hold a news conference tomorrow in Kansas City, Mo. Similar organizations plan to hold news conferences in Oklahoma on Wednesday and in Arizona on Thursday. The American Civil Rights Institute also hopes to get such a measure on the ballot in either Nebraska or South Dakota, although it has not decided which one.
Ward Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, plans to appear at each of this week’s news conferences and is advising the state organizations on their campaigns. In an interview today, he said the Colorado campaign would need about 74,600 valid petition signatures to get the measure on the ballot there, and planned to try to collect at least 120,000. The proposed measure, to be reviewed by state elections officials on Thursday, says: “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.”
Mr. Connerly said he expected each of the state campaigns to encounter a distinct set of challenges, but was confident that they would succeed based on the results of last fall’s election in Michigan. There, 58 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment banning the use of affirmative-action preferences by public colleges and other state and local agencies, even though the measure was strongly opposed by business and religious leaders, organized labor, and civil-rights groups, and had little organized support. “I can’t see anything being tougher than it was in Michigan,” Mr. Connerly said. —Peter Schmidt