PHOENIX - Ward Connerly has carved a career, and a reputation, out of striking down affirmative action, starting with university programs in his home state of California. Now Connerly and his American Civil Rights Institute are bringing the fight to Arizona.
Proposition 107 seeks to amend the Arizona Constitution to ban state government and municipalities from giving preferential treatment on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity or national origin. This includes everything from state-funded programs that help women and minorities in areas where there is a disparity, such as science education, to hiring quotas in the state university system.
The programs are designed to correct inequities in gender or race, but Connerly thinks they're just another form of discrimination. "Why should anybody's tax money be used to discriminate?" he said. "I wouldn't want anyone discriminating against me."
During his tenure as a University of California regent, Connerly took aim at race-based admission preferences and was the public face of a 1996 ballot initiative in which California banned race and gender preferences in state-funded programs and institutions.
Since then, he has led successful efforts in Washington, Michigan and Nebraska to make the practice illegal in state and city hiring and university admissions.
Connerly's message is underscored by a notion that equal treatment is the essence of civil rights. His Sacramento, Calif.-based American Civil Rights Institute contends that government policies shouldn't advocate group rights over individual rights.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, a member of the No On 107 steering committee, says the very place Connerly began his crusade, a public university system, is exactly where Arizona would be hurt the most if Proposition 107 passes.
According to Sinema, only 25 percent of science and technology students are women. Programs such as Women in Science and Engineering are designed to provide women with educational and career development opportunities to balance the disparity between genders. Without these university programs, "we're not supporting the best and the brightest," she said.
Connerly said there is a simple solution for these programs. "All they have to do is admit anybody," he said.
The language of Proposition 107 does exempt "reasonably necessary qualifications based on sex, existing court orders and actions that would result in the loss of federal funds."
The issue hasn't attracted much funding to date.
The Yes on 107 committee hasn't filed any financial reports with the Secretary of State's Office. Two groups opposing the proposition, Protect Arizona's Freedom and the Equality and Opportunity Committee, have registered $100 and $1,111 in income, respectively.
Leon Drolet, campaign manager for Yes On 107, said the proposition will also affect city programs, such as the Minority and Woman-Owned Business Program in Tucson, which provides incentives to certified firms within the county to conduct business with the city.
According to Drolet, those meeting the city's favored ethnic status in certain categories receive bid preferences of up to 7 percent on contracts.
Bob Barton, project manager for the Office of Equal Opportunity in Tucson, said the city provides preferences when it has identified disparities in three sectors: construction, professional services, and goods and services.
The city of Tucson paid $500,000 in November 2008 for a study that is valid for five years to pinpoint where disparities exist.
Barton added the city has a race- and gender-neutral small business program. He sees Proposition 107 as having very little impact on local Tucson firms because 95 percent qualify for the race- and gender-neutral program.
Drolet also said hiring quotas, or goals, for state jobs would be illegal under the measure. The University of Arizona's Office of Institutional Equity posts its placement goals for job-specific hiring, with a percentage of hires allocated to be female and a separate percentage to be minorities.
"Many know these policies are unpopular with the public, so they don't make them easy to find," Drolet said.
Johnny Cruz, the university's assistant vice president for communications, said UA isn't taking an official stance on the proposition but will study the potential "intended and unintended consequences" closely.
Connerly said he's optimistic Proposition 107 will pass because everyone deserves a fair chance.
"If you believe in the American creed of all people are created equal, how can you oppose this?" he said.