Affirmative action targeted
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 27, 2007

Group hopes to place plan on Arizona ballot Matthew Benson
Race, sex and other factors would be off the table when it comes to government hires and university admissions in Arizona under a ballot measure proposed Thursday.

The anti-affirmative-action effort, titled the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, will appear on the November 2008 ballot if supporters can collect the necessary 230,047 valid signatures.

It would prohibit everything from government contracting that gives preferences to minority-owned businesses to universities that consider race and ethnicity in student admissions. Private businesses would be unaffected.
The effort is led by Ward Connerly, a former University of California regent who has successfully shepherded similar measures in California, Washington and Michigan. Connerly, who is Black, said government shouldn't be in the practice of offering preferences based upon appearance.

"My skin shouldn't matter to you," he told onlookers who gathered at the Capitol for the announcement. "Yours doesn't matter to me."

The practical impact of the initiative, should it pass, is unknown, even to Connerly. Arizona's three major public universities - Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University - have said they don't take race or ethnicity into account in student admissions.

Government practices
Valley governments are a mix when it comes to their hiring practices.

Maricopa County doesn't use race or ethnicity as a factor, nor do the municipalities of Tempe or Gilbert.

Among vendors and businesses that hope to contract with Phoenix, the city sets goals for their hiring of women and minorities.

Glendale considers a person's ethnic background along with his or her qualifications. Glendale's city manager, Ed Beasley, is Black, and the city has high-level administrators of Latino, Pakistani and Caribbean descent.

Beasley defended the city's hiring practices, saying it is about aiding minorities who historically have been treated unfairly. "People aren't looking for set-asides. They're looking for equalization."

Thomas speaks up
But Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas argued that government-sponsored affirmative action has outlived its usefulness and become something that was never intended.

"These programs have grown into something that divides us, a system of inherited preferences inconsistent with the American Dream," said Thomas, honorary chairman of Connerly's Arizona campaign.

The battle lines were being drawn on Day 1.

Phoenix resident John Sharp, who is Black, said Connerly "has his blindfold on" if he doesn't see racism in America and the continuing need for affirmative action.

"I taught my kids they need to work extra hard to maintain everything they have," Sharp said.

Rep. Ben Miranda, D-Phoenix, accused Connerly of bringing his movement to Arizona to benefit from racial unrest created by fears about illegal immigration.

"He's hitting what he feels to be the states with the strongest anti-immigrant sentiment," Miranda said. "He's trying to capitalize on that and drive a deeper wedge that divides people."

Connerly plans to also place his initiative on the 2008 ballot in Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma and at least one other state he wouldn't disclose.

'Divisive' proposal
The ballot effort figures to be emotional, and Rep. Chad Campbell,
D-Phoenix, called it "just another divisive initiative" that will distract
from more pressing matters.

Critics also worry it could inflame racial tensions in a state already
struggling with cultural shifts brought by illegal immigration.

Connerly brushed aside such fears, noting that "racial tensions are already

"This is something that I think will go a long way toward getting a
colorblind society," said T.J. Shope, who is Latino and president of the
College Republicans at ASU.

Sharp is doubtful. When can affirmative action be shelved? "When God comes

Republic reporters Yvonne Wingett, Carrie Watters, Casey Newton, Katie
Nelson and Michael Walbert contributed to this article.