April 01, 2008

Ward Connerly, Colorado Civil Rights Anti-Affirmative Action Initiative Draws Deception Charges From Opponents

“It is not fraudulent when a person says they believe an initiative will achieve certain results and the opponents happen to disagree. Affirmative action is an amorphous term. It means different things to different people”--Ward Connerly

Last week it was reported that the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative had been approved as Amendment 46 on the November ballot.

So how would the opposition choose to challenge the ballot initiative?

By charging deception of course (in the New York Times no less!):
Freddie Whitney was walking out of a King Soopers supermarket here this winter when she was approached by three young men.

They politely asked if she was against discrimination and, if so, if she would sign a petition that would legally end the practice in the state. After scanning it briefly, Ms. Whitney, a 78-year-old African-American, signed it.

A few weeks later, Ms. Whitney says, she was shocked to learn from a local newspaper that she had unwittingly lent her support to a ballot measure called the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative that seeks to eliminate state programs that give preferential treatment to minorities and women.

The proposal is part of a larger effort organized by the conservative advocate Ward Connerly, whose group, the American Civil Rights Coalition, is seeking to disassemble affirmative action in five states this year: Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

“My reaction was, ‘Oh, my God, what have I done?’ ” Ms. Whitney said. “I have children and grandchildren who have benefited from affirmative action.”

Several dozen Coloradans, some of them members of minorities, say they were deceived into signing the petitions under the guise of ending discrimination, and have complained to Colorado Unity, a coalition of civil rights groups that is fighting Mr. Connerly’s efforts.
Connerly rejected these claims:
Mr. Connerly, a former regent of the University of California, maintains that it is entirely accurate to present the measure as “ending discrimination,” and that the public has not been misled.

“It is not fraudulent when a person says they believe an initiative will achieve certain results and the opponents happen to disagree,” Mr. Connerly said. “Affirmative action is an amorphous term. It means different things to different people.”

Mr. Connerly, who is black, pointed out that the language of the ballot measure, which seeks to prohibit the state “from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin,” was approved by the state title board and upheld by the State Supreme Court last September.

Mr. Connerly’s supporters have gathered 128,044 signatures in Colorado, more than the 76,000 needed for certification on the state’s ballot in November. But Bill Vandenberg, a co-chairman of Colorado Unity, said his group had fielded complaints over how the signatures were collected and was considering taking Mr. Connerly to court and filing a legal challenge with Colorado’s secretary of state, Mike Coffman.
The 50,000 extra signatures should be more than enough to withstand anecdotal accusations of the public being misled.

We certainly don't condone any deceitful practices on the part of those collecting signatures--the voter should be given full disclosure of the proposed ballot initiative, and an adequate opportunity to read the text before signing. No one should be coerced--or intentionally misled.

But characterizing the signature-gathering process of CCRI as misleading because one's interpretation of the statement that "ending discrimination" is not what the amendment intends is itself both a gross mischaracterization of the wording of the initiative itself (which had passed all required state scrutiny measures designed to prevent such misinterpretation issues), and a rather crude way of calling into question the intent of the amendment and those supporting it.

If you feel uncomfortable with how someone is gathering signatures--too pushy, won't answer questions, won't let you read the text, etc., simply refuse to sign.

What is not surprising is that the Amendment's opponents have already latched on to the meme of deceit as a way of combatting the initiative, rather than arguing on its relative merits.

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