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McCain Seeks to Ban Affirmative Action in Arizona

Final Call, News Analysis, George E. Curry Posted: Aug 15, 2008

Despite eating chicken in Selma, Ala. and making the rounds of the NAACP and National Urban League conventions, John McCain is backing a Ward Connerly-sponsored ballot initiative that would ban affirmative action in Arizona.

The presumptive Republican nominee for president disclosed his position under questioning July 27 on ABC-TVs This Week with George Stephanopolos.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Opponents of affirmative action are trying to get a referendum on the ballot here that would do away with affirmative action. Do you support that?

MCCAIN: Yes, I do. I do not believe in quotas. But I have not seen the details of some of these proposals. But Ive always opposed quotas.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the one here in Arizona you support.

MCCAIN: I support it, yes.

Obviously, John McCain is ignorant about affirmative action. If he werent, hed know that the concept of affirmative action does include quotas. In fact, Executive Order 11246 outlawing discrimination in federal contracting forbids the use of quotas in affirmative action programs. The original order was issued by President Johnson in 1965 and extended by every subsequent president, including Ronald Reagan and Bush I and II.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights defines affirmative action as a contemporary term that encompasses any measure, beyond simple termination of a discriminatory practice, which permits the consideration of race, national origin, sex and disability, along with other criteria, and which is adopted to provide opportunities to a class of qualified individuals who have either historically or actually been denied those opportunities, and to prevent the reoccurrence of discrimination in the future.

Thats a long way of saying that race, national origin, sex and disability are allowed to be considered along with other factors when looking at qualified candidates for jobs and government contracts. Thats what John McCain is opposing.

Barack Obama was quick to note the contrast in his position.

Addressing a conference of journalists of color recently in Chicago, Obama said: I am a strong supporter of affirmative action when properly structured so that it is not a quota, but it is acknowledging and taking into account some of the hardships and difficulties that communities of color may have experienced, continue to experience, and it also speaks to the value of diversity in all walks of American life.

Interestingly, opponents of affirmative action are trying to use Obamas political success as an argument for eliminating affirmative action. In March, Newsweek magazine, under the headline, Obamas Postracial Test, asked: How will the Democratic candidate deal with potentially divisive ballot initiatives calling for an end to affirmative action?

The story said, The next test of Barack Obamas postracial persona may come from some unlikely places: Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Thats where Ward Connerly, the countrys most innovative and successful opponent of affirmative action over the past decade, is launching an effort to get an initiative on the ballots that would prohibit public institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity in areas such as hiring and college admissions.

Even with affirmative action, there is not a level playing field.

The National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium reports that although White men make up only 48 percent of the college-educated workforce, they hold 85 percent of the tenured college faculty positions, 86 percent of law firm partnerships, more than 90 percent of the top jobs in the news media, and 96 percent of CEO positions.

The number of Fortune 500 Black CEOs fell from seven in 2007 to five in 2008. If African-Americans were represented among the CEO ranks in the same proportion they are in the population, there would be 63 Blacks CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, not five.

Most Black CEOs and other top achievers readily acknowledge that they rose to the top, in part, because affirmative action provided them an opportunity to demonstrate their skills.

Ward Connerly, the Black conservative who personally benefited from affirmative action by receiving a minority set-aside contract in California, is traveling from state to state, as though he were Paul Revere, organizing ballot initiatives to outlaw affirmative action. He has been successful in California with Proposition 209 and in the states of Washington and Michigan.

Progressives have made some costly tactical errors in the battle over affirmative action. Rather than waiting for Connerly to ride in on his white horse, they should beat him to the punch by putting forth pro-affirmative action ballot initiatives. By going on the offensive, they would put Ward Connerly on the defensive for a change.

In the meantime, John McCain trots out the same old tired and misleading arguments about quotas. He fails to understand that the concept of affirmative action has been upheld even by a conservative Supreme Court and the U.S. military and major corporations have been among the chief advocates of affirmative action.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, http://www.georgecurry.com.

Related Articles:

Candidates Wobble on Affirmative Action

Where Do APAs Stand On Affirmative Action?

Ward Connerlys Agenda for 08: From Missouri to Arizona

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