After Colorado Loss, Ward Connerly May Pull the Plug on Affirmative-Action Bans

Naomi Zeveloff, Colorado Independent, November 7, 2008

Anti-affirmative-action guru Ward Connerly will likely halt his nationwide push to end race and gender preferences. Connerly, a part black California businessman, spoke with the Colorado Independent an hour after Amendment 46 toppled by an extremely thin margin.

The so-called Colorado Civil Rights Initiative was the first Connerly amendment to flop after making it onto a state ballot. It was also a key measure in Connerly’s Super Tuesday for Equal Rights campaign, a nationwide thrust to dismantle affirmative action programs in five states this year. In three of those states, the measure failed to make it onto the ballot, and Thursday, after a feverishly close tally, it collapsed in Colorado. Nebraska was the only state this year to approve the proposal.

In a wide-ranging, hour-long phone interview with The Colorado Independent, Connerly said he now intends to turn his focus to prison reform. He downplayed the importance of Colorado’s rejection of a ban on affirmative action programs, and also weighed in on President-elect Barack Obama’s historic win.

When asked how he planned to proceed now that Colorado voters had rejected Amendment 46, Connerly said that he might curb his 12-year-long effort, which produced wins in California, Michigan and Washington state in years past and in Nebraska this year. {snip}

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But rather than continue the fight against racial preferences, Connerly said he will focus on reforming the criminal justice system. He has developed a passion for the issue because, he said, “I know someone for whom I have great affection who is in this situation. I had to learn a lot more about the system than I ever knew before.”

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“I don’t want to mislead you. I don’t want to say I am no longer going to be interested in race equality in our public policies,” he said. “I think this whole business of what we are doing to people who are incarcerated is far more pressing.”

However, Connerly would not concede that the weak returns over his “Super Tuesday” efforts to dismantle affirmative action prompted him to turn his focus to another issue. In fact he went back and forth on characterizing the Amendment 46 result as a loss.

“I sort of felt Wednesday morning at 4:15 a.m. that this would probably be defeated, and I congratulate the other side. We have a different perspective, and they waged a vigorous campaign. It got ugly with the character assassination, and I wish they hadn’t done that,” he said, referring to two Vote No radio ads that called Connerly a “carpetbagger” and were later pulled from the airwaves.

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In spite of his ambiguity, Connerly did say that Amendment 46—which performed astoundingly well in polls before the election—failed because Colorado voters were overwhelmed with the massive ballot.

“I think that the fact that there were so many initiatives on the ballot spoke volumes more about this issue than anything else,” he said. “There was a lot of voter fatigue in my view, and they said, ‘Let’s preserve the status quo,’ and they voted ‘no.’”

“A 50-50 vote does not tell either side anything at all. Nothing,” he added, when asked about the legacy of a Colorado loss. {snip}

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Coloradans voted down Amendment 46, becoming the first state to reject an initiative being pushed across the nation that would have eliminated race- and gender-based affirmative action programs.

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Backed by California millionaire Ward Connerly and a local committee headed by Jessica Corry of the Independence Institute, the amendment is modeled after one passed in California, Washington, Michigan and, just this week, by Nebraska.

“It’s a great testament to the people of Colorado that when they understood the truth about the initiative, they rejected it,” said Melissa Hart, leader of the No on 46 campaign.

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Opponents called the amendment deceptive because, while packaged as a measure to outlaw discrimination, its aim was to ban “preferential treatment” by government, effectively ending affirmative action programs.

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“We remain as energized and passionate as ever to ensure that no child, worker, small business owner or family ever suffers again from government sponsored discrimination,” Corry said. “We will explore every avenue available to us—another ballot initiative, litigation or just working with government leaders to show them there’s a better way.”

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