Block on Affirmative Action Headed to Ballot

Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services, June 22, 2009

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On a 17-11 vote the Senate gave final approval to a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit preferential treatment or discrimination by government on the basis of race, sex or ethnic origin. The measure, which already has been approved by the House, now goes on the 2010 ballot.

It will be the first time Arizonans get to vote on the issue. A similar initiative drive in 2008 failed when backers did not get enough signatures.

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The measure is aimed at any law, rule or regulation that would give any group preference in public employment, contracting or education. These range from admissions to the state’s two publicly funded law schools to the set-aside and bid preferences offered by Tucson for minority-owned businesses.

“It is unconscionable that we are allowing government to discriminate in these areas,” said Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park. “That’s not equal treatment.”

Connerly, who pushed through a similar measure in his home state in 1996, said it “sets the tone that government should not be discriminating against its citizens or granting anyone preferential treatment.”

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“We sometimes forget that these laws are not just there for women and minorities,” [Connerly] said.

“They’re there to apply to everybody,” Connerly continued. “Black people aren’t the only ones to have civil rights.”

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“If you could convince me that there was compelling evidence that brown-skinned people, black people, Latinos, Native Americans, are genetically inferior and therefore we are disabled . . . I would probably say, ‘Yes, we need to allow preferences to make sure that those individuals could have a proper role in American life,” [Connerly] said.

While Connerly says the measure is crafted to ensure that government treats everyone equally, it contains no prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Connerly said he wanted to keep this measure simple by mirroring the language of the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act and did not want to invite litigation by adding other issues.

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