Christian Palmer, Arizona Capitol Times (Phoenix), May 26, 2009
After failing to qualify an initiative for the 2008 ballot, backers of a measure that aims to stop affirmative action in government hiring and contracting decisions are setting their sights on the 2010 election cycle.
Now, Connerly, a black man who has successfully pushed initiatives in Michigan and California to outlaw racial and gender-based preference policies, is back at it. The Arizona Civil Rights ballot initiative committee this month has registered with the Secretary of State’s Office in preparation for a 2010 effort.
Part of Connerly’s persistence stems from the historic election of Barack Obama, who in November became the first black president of the United States. That factor, he said, shreds his opponents’ claims that affirmative-action programs are necessary to counter existing racial prejudice.
And the criticism against Connerly and his efforts has been met with the same vigor. In 2008, opponents hailing from Michigan teamed up with Arizona college students to form By Any Means Necessary, a ballot initiative committee that opposed Connerly’s effort to land the initiative on the ballot.
Several of the group’s 2008 interactions with paid signature-gatherers for the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative were captured on video. On one such video taken on Mill Avenue in Tempe, a man signing a petition was told repeatedly that he is supporting a racist initiative designed to “re-segregate” state universities. The interaction lasted for almost two minutes before the man blurted out “Stop harassing me.”
Another video taken outside Chase Field showed protestors circling around a signature-gatherer and telling passers-by not to sign the petition because it is backed by the Ku Klux Klan.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Phoenix Democrat, formed a coalition called Protect Arizona’s Freedom to oppose Connerly’s 2008 initiative. Sinema’s group filed a lawsuit in August in hopes of keeping the measure from qualifying for the ballot.
Connerly noted several initiatives were prevented from appearing on the ballot for the same reason in 2008, and he said paid circulation efforts for the initiative produced many duplicate and fictitious names.
“He would be eliminating programs at community colleges and universities to help women and students of color succeed and enter the marketplace,” [Sinema] said. “Maybe he doesn’t believe we should have those programs.”
This time, Connerly said the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative Committee will seek access to voter registration files in order to validate signatures prior to filing.