Petition Drive to Ban Affirmative Action Faces Hard Fight

Matthew Hansen, Omaha World-Herald, July 1, 2008

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Defenders of current affirmative action policies are trying to disrupt [Ward] Connerly’s group at the outset at it tries to collect enough petition signatures to place the issue on the November ballot.

They send “blockers” who videotape petition circulators, document any alleged wrongdoing and discourage people from signing the petitions.

They accuse Connerly’s group of deception and publicize cases in which minorities have signed the petition believing it would strengthen, not erode, affirmative action.

They employ aggressive legal strategies, challenge petition signatures and force the issue into court.

The new game plan is simple, says a leader of one national group that opposes Connerly.

“The key to defeating the initiative is to keep it off the ballot in the first place. That’s the only way we’re going to win,” said Donna Stern, Midwest director for the Detroit-based By Any Means Necessary.

The new game plan is working better than earlier strategies. {snip}

Already this year, opponents in Oklahoma and Missouri managed to keep the question off the ballot in those states.

{snip}

That leaves Nebraska, where the leaders of the main group opposing the ban, Nebraskans United, have signaled that they won’t allow the proposed Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative onto the ballot without a fight.

David Kramer, the group’s director, handed out video and audio clips last week that he said showed petition circulators breaking state laws.

{snip}

Connerly, in an interview, called the opposition’s new strategy “desperation.” He said Kramer is trying to take the focus off affirmative action because it’s a losing political issue.

The anti-affirmative action leader pointed to a recent opinion poll, funded by the Connerly-affiliated Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative, as evidence that Nebraskans are on his side. It said that 71 percent of those surveyed favor ending preferences based on race, ethnicity and gender.

Connerly said that in Nebraska and elsewhere, affirmative action supporters are using “street thug tactics” like intimidation and videotaping to discourage people from signing petitions.

He reserved special disdain for a recent Nebraskans United radio ad that suggested that if people signed the petitions, their identities might be stolen.

{snip}

Even the name of Connerly’s group—the American Civil Rights Initiative—suggests that he’s in lockstep with the civil rights movement, opponents say, when most civil rights leaders strongly oppose banning affirmative action.

{snip}

In Nebraska, Kramer hopes the proposed constitutional amendment banning affirmative action can be defeated by voters if it does reach the ballot.

He pointed to the so-called “taxpayer bill of rights” initiative two years ago that seemingly was favored by Nebraskans in opinion polls done over the summer but failed at the ballot box in November.

{snip}

Kramer said the group then may file a legal challenge to any ruling from Secretary of State John Gale that would put the proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot.

And, because of the opposition, leaders of the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative know they will need to hand in more signatures than the minimum 115,000 required, said Doug Tietz, the group’s director.

“They’ve figured one thing out,” Tietz said. Keeping the proposal off the ballot “is their only chance.”

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