Monday, September 29, 2008

Equal Opportunity: Colorado’s In For the Fight of Her Life but Governor Ritter’s on Her Side

Guest posted by Colorado Springs NAACP President Rosemary Harris Lytle

Colorado’s ballot for November is crowded and full of proposals that seem to defy logic. But none of them is as dangerous and deceptive as Amendment 46 – the anti-affirmative action proposal that would set the state back 40 years.

Supported by California millionaire Wardell Connerly, Amendment 46 is all about fooling voters and playing on their insecurities and confusion about buzz words like civil rights, affirmative action, quotas and preferential treatment. And Connerly, an African American who was himself an affirmative action baby, couldn’t be prouder. His goal is to make unconstitutional everywhere equal opportunity and affirmative action programs in state hiring, contracts and education – no matter how it must be done.

The Colorado Springs Branch NAACP is one of more than 40 organizations that comprise Colorado Unity, the equal opportunity coalition that has worked for 12 years to keep affirmative action as the law of the land in Colorado State government. With nearly 500 members, the Branch is the largest in the NAACP’s Colorado, Montana, Wyoming State Conference headed by President Beatrice Madison and has been, perhaps, the most active of the Units in Region IV (directed by Rev. Gill Ford of the National Office) when it comes to protecting equal opportunity.

But it hasn’t been easy. First, in 1996, Ed Jones, a Black, Republican, former State Legislator from Colorado Springs, tried to end affirmative action in state education -- and the voters turned him back with a vengeance. Then, those who make it their business to do business without folks of color around the table, dropped Jones (he lost his next election ) and got a bigger gun – Wardell Connerly.

Read the Ms Magazine article by editor Kate Spillar to see who he really is: http://www.msmagazine.com/winter2008/WardConnerlyPart1.asp

When it comes to ending affirmative action, as he did in California, Washington and Michigan, Connerly modes operandi is always the same: trick voters by calling his proposals “civil rights initiatives” and get them to sign your petitions by telling them outright lies such as “The NAACP supports it. Why shouldn’t you?” When it comes to duping voters, Connerly is, without parallel, Public Enemy No. 1.

This time around, a group of those who signed the petitions came to Colorado Unity and the NAACP, asking how they could take those signatures back. They said they had been tricked by the Connerly petition carriers. Colorado Unity and the NAACP maintained that they represented a sample of all the petition signers, compelling enough to cast into doubt how all the other signatures were secured.

But, in short order, the Secretary of State’s office verified the Connerly signatures (even though one petition was signed by “Jesus Christ”) and after months of legal haggling, though, last week a judge threw out their suit.

Amendment 46 proceeds to voters Nov. 4.

Amendment 46 would make it unconstitutional for government agencies in Colorado to consider race and gender in most hiring, contracting or school admissions, effectively ending affirmative action-type programs dating back to the 1960s. We know, however, that racism and sexism are still real and though there has been progress, we have not yet achieved King’s dream. In order to get there, there must be a mandate with legal teeth; state equal opportunity programs and other efforts like those that support a level playing field, pay equity for women and people of color and greater diversity in higher education in a state where the largest public university has an African American student population of less than 2 percent.

If Colorado is to be all that she can be, everyone must have the opportunity to be at the table, everyone must have access to information that otherwise might only exist in a private board room or on an exclusive golf course, and everyone must have the ability to compete on a playing field that has been leveled.

If Colorado is to be great, she must protect existing affirmative action programs – and make them stronger even – so that equal opportunity is one day the real law of the land.

This just in … During a press conference on the Capitol Steps, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter will publicly voice his opposition to Amendment 46; a beautiful thing for the State of Colorado and validation of the work of Colorado Unity and the Colorado Springs Branch NAACP.

Rosemary Harris Lytle -- Communications Director for 9to5, National Association of Working Women -- is President of the Colorado Springs Branch NAACP and Co-Chair of the Speakers Bureau of Colorado Unity, the statewide equal opportunity coalition.


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From the Rocky Mountain News, Sept. 2008:

What Amendment 46 would do
Prohibit the state from granting preferential treatment to anyone on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity in hiring, education and contracts, effectively eliminating race- and gender-based affirmative action programs.

* Who is for it: The Colorado "Civil Rights" Initiative Committee
* The money behind it: $360,010 raised through Sept. 2.  ($346,870, or 96 percent of the total, comes from organizations run by California entrepreneur Ward Connerly.)
* Who is against it: Coloradans for Equal Opportunity
* The money against it: $281,050 raised through Sept. 2.  ($247,655, or 88 percent of the total, comes from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.)

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