Mark Hornbeck and Charlie Cain, Detroit News, September 14, 2006
Opposition to the ballot proposal to ban most affirmative action programs in Michigan college admissions and government is weakening. But proponents are still short of the magic 50 percent mark, a new Detroit News/WXYZ-TV poll shows.
The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which will be Proposal 2 on the November ballot, leads 48 percent to 37 percent with 15 percent undecided. A similar survey last month had the measure in a 47-47 deadlock.
What the numbers suggest is that some of last month’s opponents now aren’t so sure. They’ve flopped into the “undecided” category.
Detroit News/WXYZ pollster Ed Sarpolus attributed part of the movement to reading the precise ballot language — as voters will see it Nov. 7 — to those who were polled. He added that supporters of the ban have started TV advertising.
“If you look at California and Washington, where similar ballot proposals were approved, these are how the numbers tracked at this stage,” Sarpolus said.
He said Ward Connerly, the California businessman who is spearheading the effort, made ballot proposals in other states a black-white issue in the final weeks before elections.
“He knows targeting this as a racial issue will increase the support,” Sarpolus said.
Jennifer Gratz, spokeswoman for the initiative, said supporters will deliver a “straightforward message” in the last seven weeks of the campaign.
“We will talk about this issue in terms it should be talked about and on Election Day. I believe people will overwhelmingly vote ‘yes,’ to end policies that discriminate against some based on gender and skin color while giving preference to others,” she said.
Dave Waymire, spokesman for One United Michigan, which is leading the opposition to the proposal, said his campaign is “ramping up, and we’re getting more and more support.
“The event this week with religious leaders (announcing their opposition to the proposal) was extraordinary,” he said. “And with the grassroots support we are getting, we feel comfortable we are moving in the right direction.”
The hot-button debate over race, gender and equal opportunity echoed in Lansing neighborhoods and at the Capitol on Saturday.
Hundreds of people marched down Lansing streets from Sexton High School toward the pro-affirmative action rally, carrying signs and chanting “Vote no on Proposal 2.” Lansing police estimated the total Capitol crowd at 2,000.
Angela Pruitt of Lansing brought her 15-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter to the Capitol to express support for affirmative action and opposition to Proposal 2.
“I am a woman and a minority,” she said. “If we could leave it up to the individual to do the right thing, we wouldn’t have to vote no.”
Proposal 2, known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, is easily the most controversial and emotional ballot proposal of 2006 and is drawing national attention. The proposed constitutional amendment, which voters will decide Nov. 7, would end race — and gender-based affirmative action by public institutions.
The rally was organized by the Michigan State Conference of the NAACP to coincide with the association’s convention in Lansing.
Most state leaders and businesses oppose the measure, but a poll released last week showed it leading 48 percent to 38 percent.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero were among the speakers at Saturday’s rally. They said approval of the measure would be a blow to Michigan’s economy and its citizens.
Granholm said Michigan’s colleges thrive with diverse student bodies and state businesses depend on diverse work forces. “This is not about quotas. It’s about opportunity,” she said. “It’s not an issue of black and white. It’s an issue about us all.”
Granholm said her daughter recently attended an engineering program at the University of Michigan for girls. She said such programs would disappear if Proposal 2 passes.
Seeking equal treatment
But Jennifer Gratz, executive director of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, said a ban on race and gender preferences would be a step forward for the state and for people’s rights.
“Equal treatment is the essence of civil rights,” she said.
Gratz said Granholm was trying to make excuses for the state’s bad economy.
Stabenow said that while women and minorities have made progress, affirmative action remains necessary.
Women still earn only 67 cents for every dollar that men make, she said. “Last time I looked, the bread cost the same, the gas cost the same, and the rent cost the same,” Stabenow said.
Mary McKissic of Detroit came on a bus with members of her church. “Affirmative action is a way to right the wrongs,” she said.
Denise Arnold, an Okemos attorney, said she was shocked by statistics about lower minority enrollment at the University of California at Berkeley since California banned affirmative action in 1996.
“That’s the kind of thing people have to be mindful of,” she said.
Several supporters of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative gathered on Capitol Avenue for a counterdemonstration. Lansing police officers used their bicycles to provide a makeshift barrier between the two groups.
Baldemar Velasquez, founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee of the AFL-CIO, said affirmative action is important in preserving the rights of immigrant farm workers.
“We are blaming the poor and the powerless for all our country’s woes,” he said. “America is in trouble.”