Discrimination fight is not over

Despite Obama’s successes, affirmative action still necessary

By Kimberly S. Johnson
Denver Post

The very presence of Barack Obama’s name on the ballot may be a setback for civil rights advancement in Colorado.

Here’s why: On Nov. 4, Coloradans also are being asked to vote on Amendment 46, which seeks to end affirmative action programs for minorities and women. Some voters may make a leap in logic and assume that because a black man has a chance to become president, discrimination is thing of the past and affirmative action is no longer needed.

They’d be wrong, of course.

Obama is an intelligent, highly successful black man. He has reached echelons of success unattainable for many Americans, regardless of race.

But his rise is an exception, not a rule. His candidacy cannot possibly end the systemic discrimination reflected in state hiring, college admissions and contracting.

Obama has the opportunity to interview for a job on a national stage, whereas most minorities and women have one person or a small group making a hiring decision. If one or more members of the group hold prejudiced attitudes toward a certain racial group, that could be the deciding factor between a new opportunity and nothing, argues Tim Wise, author of “Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White” (RoutledgeFalmer, 2005).

“Unless you have something that requires people to seek out differences, they will do things the same old way,” he said. “Racism and inequality are still entrenched.”

The true goal of affirmative action, before it was twisted by conservatives and liberals, was to forge a path to end the disparity between the races due to slavery, Jim Crow and segregation.

Affirmative action does not intend for unqualified minorities and women to get “a helping hand,” but rather a “hand up” to a more level playing field. It’s not about quotas (which are illegal), or having the Rainbow Coalition in the office, classroom or boardroom. To put it plainly, it’s about not being overlooked because you’re qualified but happen to have a bit more melanin in your skin or have breasts.

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Affirmative action ban initiative headed toward ballot

A campaign to ban most forms of affirmative action in Nebraska has enough petition signatures to reach the November ballot.

Doug Tietz, director of the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative, the group advocating the ban, said this morning that the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office had informed him that the petition had “more than enough” valid signatures after a county-by-county check of those signatures.

The initiative needed 112,152 valid signatures – equal to 10 percent of registered voters statewide – to be placed on the ballot. Signers must be registered Nebraska voters.

John Gale, Nebraska Secretary of State, announced the official number of valid signatures this afternoon. With all 93 counties completing the verification process, the initiative had 136,589 valid signatures of registered voters.

“We have it by a comfortable margin,” Tietz said this morning. “Nebraskans signed it, and now they want to vote on it, period.”

The Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative is seeking to change the state constitution to bar public agencies such as city governments and the University of Nebraska from considering applicants’ race or gender when enrolling students or hiring workers. Those practices are commonly known as affirmative action.

Nebraskans United, the group opposing the affirmative action ban, has alleged misconduct by the petition gatherers as they collected signatures through the spring and summer.

David Kramer, the group’s director, has distributed videos and photographs that appear to show petition gatherers leaving their petitions unattended or failing to read the petition’s complete “object statement” to people who sign it. Both practices would violate state law.

Kramer has said his group might file a lawsuit if it appears the Secretary of State and the county clerks didn’t address this alleged misconduct before they deemed the signatures valid.

“We’ll just have to wait and see how the (afternoon announcement) goes,” Kramer said.

A group headed by Ward Connerly, a California businessman and former University of California regent, is financially backing the Nebraska campaign to ban affirmative action. Connerly’s group has succeeded in passing similar constitutional amendments in California, Washington and Michigan in the past decade.

This year, Connerly’s ambitious campaign to ban affirmative action in five states – he dubbed this campaign “Super Tuesday for Equal Rights” – appears to be falling apart.

Arizona officials announced Thursday that Connerly’s group doesn’t have enough valid signa- tures to reach that state’s November ballot.

Campaigns in Missouri and Oklahoma also have ended prematurely because of a lack of petition signatures and aggressive court challenges by Connerly’s opponents.

That leaves Nebraska and Colorado as the only two states where the issue might reach the ballot box.

In Nebraska, supporters of the ban still might have to wend their way past a series of court challenges before November’s election.

A Lancaster County judge is reviewing a lawsuit alleging that the ballot language of the proposed constitutional amendment is misleading and confusing.

And Tietz said he wouldn’t be surprised if opponents of the affirmative action ban file another lawsuit seeking to invalidate more petition signatures and attempting to keep it off the ballot.

“It’s like we’re running the 100-meter hurdles, so there are a lot of hurdles to jump,” Tietz said. “But this hurdle we cleared today is big.”

• Contact the writer: 444-1064, matthew.hansen@owh.com