‘Super Tuesday for Equal Rights’

Harry Stein, Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2008

With race looming as a key issue in the fall elections—perhaps a pivotal one, assuming that Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee—diehard defenders of the racial status quo are going to unprecedented lengths to prevent voters from having their say on government-sponsored racial preferences. Leftist activists are lining up to fight four state ballot initiatives that, if passed on Nov. 4, will outlaw preferential treatment based on race, sex and national origin in public university admissions as well as government hiring and contracting. Knowing that such antipreference initiatives enjoy strong public support—in fact, they have already passed overwhelmingly in three blue states—the activists have zero interest in waging these fights on the merits. Rather, their goal is to keep the initiatives off the ballot by any means necessary, up to and including political chicanery and outright physical intimidation.

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In fact, so powerfully does the issue resonate with voters as a matter of elementary fairness that its support everywhere cuts across traditional party lines. In liberal Washington state, for example, the antipreference initiative was backed not only by 80% of Republicans and 62% of independents, but by 41% of Democrats; this in the face of liberal opposition that—abetted by such local corporate behemoths as Eddie Bauer, Microsoft and Starbucks—massively outspent supporters of the measure. The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative similarly passed despite the fierce opposition of a liberal-left coalition of 180 groups, ranging from the League of Women Voters and the United Auto Workers to the Arab-American Institute. After the Michigan initiative’s passage, the leader of the most radical of the opposition groups, By Any Means Necessary, declared that the only way to stop antipreference measures was to ensure that they never reached the voters.

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While Mr. Connerly’s troops have gone about the difficult and costly process of placing the state initiatives on the ballot this November, preference defenders have seized on unprincipled strategies to block them, focusing in particular on two swing states with large minority populations: Colorado and Missouri. {snip}

When these arguments failed to pass muster with the electoral commission and state courts, preference defenders tried an even more novel approach, deceptive in intent yet heavy-handed in execution: a ballot initiative of their own, a shadow version of the antipreference measure clearly intended to confuse voters. {snip}

After considerable back-and-forth, the state’s title board disallowed the language in the shadow amendment, and preference supporters are currently trying to come up with alternative wording. But given the need to submit upward of 76,000 valid signatures to place an initiative on the state ballot, the clock is running out. Meanwhile, CCRI supporters have already submitted 50,000 more signatures than required, so the genuine antipreferences initiative will definitely be on the ballot.

{snip} [Missouri’s] Democratic secretary of state Robin Carnahan, charged with what is normally the routine certification of ballot measures, instead went to work on this one, eliminating its straightforward language, derived from that of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and substituting wording that pleads the other side’s case. The question, as she wanted to pose it to voters, was whether to amend the state’s constitution to “ban affirmative action programs designed to eliminate discrimination against, and improve opportunities for, women and minorities in public contracting, employment and education.” So egregious was this subterfuge that a liberal county circuit judge took the unprecedented step of throwing out Ms. Carnahan’s rewrite and reinstating the original language almost intact.

Still, as Mr. Connerly observes, “all the forces of the Left are converging in Missouri—Acorn and the rest of the race industry, the feminists, the unions, the contractors who feed off this stuff—and George Soros is providing a lot of the funding. They’re enlisting the whole vast left-wing conspiracy—and, believe me, it’s a lot vaster than the supposed right-wing one.” The ugliness is most evident on the streets, where supporters of the ballot initiative are busy gathering signatures. Opponents’ chief tactic is to use “blockers”—often burly union men—to shadow signature gatherers and scare off potential signers by charging not only that the initiative is racist and has the support of the Ku Klux Klan, but also that the signers risk identity theft. In addition, the pro-preferences sources have dispatched their people to sign petitions with false names and addresses, so that they will be invalidated later.

Earlier this year, such methods took their toll in Oklahoma, which was to be the fifth state holding such an initiative and where, with the measure polling at close to 90%, it would surely have won. In the end, though, the number of signatures gathered exceeded the required number by only a few thousand. {snip}

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Though the racial-preference ballot measures are officially nonpartisan, they stand to make a dramatic impact on the fall campaign. With the question of racial preferences effectively nationalized by its presence on multiple state ballots, neither party’s presidential candidate will be able to evade the issue. While this might pose a dilemma for Mr. McCain—who, like most Republicans, has long shied away from the topic and might worry about jeopardizing Hispanic support—it could be catastrophic for Mr. Obama. As Mr. Connerly says, “This is a guy who’s tried awfully hard for a long time not to appear what he is—just another left-winger who supports preferences.”

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