Affirmative Action: Bush-Whacked in Florida
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Despite Gov. Jeb Bush’s attempt to derail an anti-affirmative action campaign here with his “Equity in Education” plan, officials with a California-based group say they may still plan to forge ahead with their designs to put the matter to vote.Bush earlier this month signed an order that eliminates race and ethnicity as factors in university admissions and bars racial set-asides and quotas in contracting decisions — essentially ending affirmative action in state programs. The plan, however, does provide for what Bush and several other education officials here reason are remedying opportunities to increase minority participation in the state’s colleges and universities. Observers quickly deemed the move a stab at fending off California businessman Ward Connerly, a Black state regent who was behind the successful anti-affirmative action campaigns in his state and in Washington.But officials with Connerly’s group say they still could place their initiative on the 2000 ballot.”I see no indication from Ward Connerly that in any shape or form that he wants this thing to end,” Herb Harmon, the initiative’s campaign director told The Orlando Sentinel.Connerly spokesman Kevin Nguyen says the group will review Bush’s plan before deciding whether to call off the petition drive. “The governor deserves high marks for his efforts to provide outreach programs to allow kids to compete on their own individual merit,” Nguyen says.Bush’s order — which he says “transcended” affirmative action — guarantees state university admission to the top 20 percent of the state’s high school seniors, adds $20 million to the state’s budget for need-based financial aid and makes it easier for minority businesses to be certified to work across the state. “We can increase opportunity and diversity in the state’s universities and in state contracting without using policies that discriminate or that pit one racial group against another,” Bush said. Higher education officials here have been cautiously optimistic about the proposal. “There are some advantages and disadvantages,” says Dr. Ada Burnette, a professor at Florida A&M University’s educational leadership program. “This will probably widen the door for student entry into college but we still need to look very closely at the governor’s proposal.”Dr. Ike Tribble, president and CEO of the Florida Education Fund, says he’s holding out on passing judgement.“It sounds good but it’s short on detail,” Tribble says. “And it is not very clear at all on how this plan is going to be implemented.”“The governor is taking a positive step toward protecting racial and gender inclusiveness in Florida’s universities and contracting practices,” says state Rep. Les Miller of Tampa, House Democratic leader. Others have called the move — which comes on the heels of a GOP attempt to court more minority voters — a mere political maneuver to quell the backlash the Republican parties of California and Washington faced after the anti-affirmative action measures passed in those two states.
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