Anti-affirmative Action Campaign Expected to Win in Arizona

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by Reginald Stuart

A ballot initiative to end affirmative action in Arizona has been overshadowed by other state issues, and its opposition has lost much of its funding and steam, a situation that appears to be paving the way for an easy victory today for anti-preference champion Ward Connerly.

“My sense is we’ll win and win handily,” Connerly said in a telephone interview during an October campaign swing through the state, hastening to add there are still some unknowns. “Arizona is really spread out and we’re not doing much polling. The one imponderable is early voting. I don’t know how that plays out.”

When Arizona voters go to the polls Nov. 2, they will have heard little opposition to the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, a proposed amendment to the Arizona constitution formally known as Proposition 107. The amendment would ban all race and gender preferences by state government agencies. Modeled after similar Connerly-backed measures adopted over the past decade in California, Michigan, Nebraska and Washington, the Arizona measure would restrict a range of race and gender-focused programs, including those that affect state hiring, college scholarships and vendor purchasing programs.

Political analyst David Berman, professor emeritus of political science and a senior research fellow at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University, says that the proposed amendment “seems likely to pass because conservatives will go to the polls here in unusually large numbers,” but that Hispanic voting is likely to remain historically low.

Connerly’s proposal is unpopular among Hispanics, Arizona’s largest minority, Berman says, adding, “there is some hope on the part of opponents that it might prompt more Hispanic voters to turn out. But polls suggest neither the issue nor concern about the state’s illegal immigration law will have much of an effect on the level of Hispanic voting.”

Connerly failed to get on the state’s 2008 ballot after opponents challenged the validity of signatures on his ballot petitions in Arizona, Oklahoma and several other states. This year, he bypassed the citizen’s petition route and worked with the state’s largely conservative Legislature, which voted to put the measure before voters. 

While still an issue of prime concern nationally among traditional civil rights activists, Connerly’s Arizona initiative has fallen lower on Arizona’s political radar this year. The little-contested ballot measure has been trumped, his opponents say, by the state’s racially charged debate over clamping down on undocumented immigrants. The legality of a new state measure giving local police broad powers to enforce immigration law is being challenged in federal court as a function to be conducted only by the federal government.

“SB1070 (the state’s immigration control law) has overshadowed everything in this state,” says state Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. In 2008, Sinema was coordinator of Protect Arizona’s Freedom, a broad-based coalition that opposed Connerly’s anti-affirmative-action initiative in Arizona that included the American Association of University Women, the Urban League and NAACP. While Sinema and others still oppose Prop 107, Sinema says the organized campaign has ceased and “there’s no money” to fight it.    

Connerly, meanwhile, says his Sacramento, Calif.-based American Civil Rights Institute has spent more than $1.7 million on its Arizona campaign over the past few years. He says he doesn’t think voter sentiment about his constitutional amendment is influenced for better or worse by the heated debate over the state’s new immigration law. “Rarely does it come up” at his town hall meetings around the state, Connerly says. “No effect at all.”

As for the absence this year of an organized campaign against the Arizona Initiative, Connerly says “the usual cast of characters” seems relatively muted this year. “They were playing games,” he says. “They weren’t in it for the long haul.”

Arizona is the only state in which Connerly’s anti-preference amendment is on the ballot. That doesn’t mean there aren’t spirited election campaigns from coast to coast and efforts afoot to mobilize voters in what is usually a low turnout, midterm election year.

 

Just a Reminder

 

President Barack Obama has visited college campuses across the nation in an effort to recharge the batteries of young voters who keyed his presidential victory in 2008. Obama reminded those thinking of sitting out this year’s elections that the fate of many of his higher education initiatives are at stake in the congressional contests in which 37 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats and all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for grabs.

As important, 36 state governor posts are being contested as are nearly all seats in state legislatures. The local elections for governors and state legislatures are more crucial this year than most since winners of these contests will decide how state and federal election districts will be drawn for the next 10 years.

Voter mobilization campaigns include public rallies featuring Obama. A rally at Bowie State University last month, for example, drew an estimated 7,500 people, officials said.

“It has sparked people’s interest to find out who is running for what and what they stand for,” says Kirk Pressley, the 20-year-old president of the Student Government Association at Bowie State, located in Maryland just outside the nation’s capital.

At Alabama State University, school officials and students have spent much of the fall recruiting volunteers to promote voter registration, getting people registered and promoting voting.

“The rest of the job is to get the vote out,” says Dr. Bernadette Chapel, associate executive vice president at ASU. “We want to make certain we get the vote out.”

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