KANSAS CITY — Missouri opponents of affirmative action announced Tuesday they will launch plans for a November 2008 ballot measure that would ban government-sponsored race and gender preferences in the state.
The Missouri Civil Rights Initiative will be part of a “Super Tuesday for Equal Rights” campaign led by the American Civil Rights Institute, which also hopes to ban racial preferences in Colorado, Oklahoma and Arizona, said Ward Connerly, founder and chairman of the group, based in Sacramento, Calif.
“This is a critical moment in our nation’s history,” said Connerly, whose group has helped pass similar initiatives in California, Washington and Michigan. “This initiative is about liberating our society from the last legacy of bondage on our shoulders from an era of segregation.”
The proposed initiative would ask voters to ban “preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”
Connerly said public contracting has been the source of many complaints in Missouri, but he expects the group to hear concerns about other areas, including higher education admissions policies, as the campaign gathers steam.
MU Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton declined to say what university policies or programs would be at risk should the ballot measure succeed until he and others had examined the language in the initiative. However, Middleton said its passage could result in a “problematic” situation for the university.
“The initiative’s success would inhibit a university in considering relevant factors in decisions they’re charged to make,” he said. “It would certainly be difficult for the people making these decisions to make them rationally. This will certainly be a major debate for the state and the nation this upcoming election. But if that’s what the law would require, then we will comply.”
At MU, five diversity scholarships offered to racially underrepresented students could be challenged by the initiative. The George Brooks Scholarship awards recipients $7,500 of assistance each year. The Diversity Award and the Transition Award both give students $2,500 yearly. The INROADS Scholarship awards students $1,000 per year, and the Dr. Donald M. Suggs Scholarship gives $10,000 per academic year.
Tim Asher, spokesman for the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, said individual schools and departments at public universities that offer aid from special donors could be disallowed if the funding for the scholarships are not “totally separate” from the university.
Asher said the group must receive signatures from at least 8 percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election. The roughly 150,000 required signatures must come from at least six of Missouri’s nine congressional districts, he said. Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan would also have to approve putting the issue on the November 2008 ballot.
Connerly and Asher said they expect to be outspent by supporters of affirmative action over the course of the next 18 months.
In Michigan, where voters approved a constitutional amendment banning race and gender preferences in higher education in 2006, supporters of the initiative faced the same problem.
Jennifer Gratz, who filed a suit in 1997 against the University of Michigan that challenged the school’s racial preferences in student admissions, attended Tuesday’s press conference. Gratz, director of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, led the effort to collect more than 500,000 signatures to put the measure on the state’s ballot.
“This initiative really isn’t about how much money we’re receiving,” she said. “This is about people thinking of the futures of their sons and daughters. It’s an initiative about the normal person standing up to an elitist establishment.”
John Uhlmann, the honorary chairman of the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, said the debate over equal rights dates back to the country’s founding fathers, who valued freedom and equality above all else. He called Connerly one of this generation’s “heroes,” and said it is the duty of those interested in the issue to vocally express their beliefs.
“Now, it is the time for the citizens of Missouri to confirm the pre-eminent principle to treat people equally,” Uhlmann said.
Middleton said MU would not take a political position on the debate over affirmative action. However, he encouraged Missourians to give their honest opinions regarding the initiative.
“I think most people in the state understand that our current methods of recruiting, giving aid to, and retaining racially underrepresented groups serve as a great benefit to the university and to the state,” Middleton said. “But I most definitely welcome hearing what the public has to say.”