Foes of an initiative drive planned for the 2008 ballot said they don’t want preferential treatment based on race or sex, but they still oppose any constitutional amendment that would make such advantages illegal.
A series of speakers from various civic groups decried the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative as divisive and a setback for efforts by women and minorities to get a level playing field. Operating as the Protect Arizona’s Freedom Coalition, organizers hope to persuade voters not to follow the lead of California, which adopted a similar measure in 1996.
Daniel Ortega, a board member of Los Abogados, an association of Hispanic lawyers, said the initiative “would send us all back to the days when people got jobs based on who they knew and not what they knew.”
He said the initiative would foster preferences “based on the good-old-boy network.”
“They don’t want to give people equal opportunity,” Ortega said.
That theme was echoed by the Rev. Oscar Tillman, president of the Maricopa County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He said minorities battle many forms of discrimination, such as at universities that give preferential admission to children of graduates.
“They create the playing field,” Tillman said, “then tell us how we can play in it.”
The state and most communities grant no special preferences when hiring or awarding public contracts. The only Arizona regulation says agencies awarding small contracts must seek out at least one quote from a company owned by a woman or a minority.
In Tucson, however, qualified firms owned by women or minorities can submit a bid that is up to 7 percent higher than one provided by a nonminority company and still get the contract.
Tillman would not directly address the associated costs to taxpayers, instead saying some programs are needed to take care of “some of the inequities of the past when you passed over us.”
“And if preferences come into play in order to make that a level playing field, then that’s what we’re looking for,” added Ron Busby, president of the Greater Phoenix Black Chamber of Commerce.
State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said she feared the initiative would wipe out the Governor’s Commission to Prevent Violence Against Women and the Women in Applied Science and Education program at Arizona State University, aimed at helping women in the College of Education.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas is chairman of the initiative drive.
Thomas has been battling Maricopa County Superior Court over what he calls “race-based” courts for those charged with drunken driving, and special programs for those who have been convicted of repeat offenses. Court officials say programs aimed at people with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds help them complete probation.
A federal judge has refused to block the courts, saying that Thomas has no right to sue.
Draft text of Arizona Civil Rights Initiative
(a) The state shall not discriminate against, or grant 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.
(b) Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as prohibiting bona fide qualifications based on sex that are reasonably necessary to the normal operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.
(c) Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as invalidating any court order or consent decree that is in force as of the effective date of this section.
(d) Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as prohibiting action that must be taken to establish or maintain eligibility for any federal program, if ineligibility would result in a loss of federal funds to the state.
(e) For the purposes of this section, “state’’ shall include, but not necessarily be limited to, the state itself, any city, county, city and county, state and county, public university system, including the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, community college district, school district, special district, or any other political subdivision or governmental instrumentality of or within the state.
(f) The remedies available for violations of this section shall be the same, regardless of the injured party’s race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin, as are otherwise available for violations of then-existing Arizona antidiscrimination law.
(g) This section shall be self-executing. If any part or parts of this section are found to be in conflict with federal law or the United States Constitution, the section shall be implemented to the maximum extent that federal law and the United States Constitution permit. Any provision held invalid shall be severable from the remaining portions of this section.