A measure proposed for the 2008 ballot banning Arizona governments and schools from considering race and gender when hiring or admitting students would have little to no effect if it passed.
Despite that, local civil rights leaders are pledging to fight it, saying it’s largely a symbolic gesture that sends a message of intolerance.
“This is just another effort with a racial tinge that is meant to divide us,” said Rev. Oscar Tillman, who is the head of the Maricopa County NAACP.
On Thursday, the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative announced plans to put the measure on the ballot. To do so, they need nearly 230,000 signatures from registered voters. The group has launched similar efforts in three other states including Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Spearheading the efforts is noted affirmative action foe Ward Connerly, who garnered national attention in 1996 when he helped pass an initiative in California banning race- and gender-based preferences.
Since then, the measure has become a blueprint for laws passed in Washington and Michigan. Supporters of the proposed ban argue that giving preferential treatment based on race and gender is discriminatory and it overlooks other areas such as economic background.
“These types of policies don’t do anything to help the people who really need it and haven’t had access to many opportunities,” said Jennifer Gratz, a spokeswoman for group pushing the ballot measure.
She said the current system of affirmative action needs to be dismantled before economic background should be considered.
Officials with cities and towns across the East Valley said the initiative would have almost no impact because they do not have affirmative action-type hiring policies.
“It appears that that’s not going to have any impact on us whatsoever, said Greg Svelund, a spokesman for Gilbert. “We have a total merit-based system for hiring employees.”
Tempe also doesn’t have specific benchmarks for hiring employees of a certain gender or race, city spokeswoman Nikki Ripley said. The city advertises and recruits to get a wide diversity of applicants, but doesn’t hire based on either factor alone.
“Because we recruit you to apply doesn’t mean you’re in.” Ripley said. “We still hire the best people.”
In Mesa, a city that has battled a reputation of lacking diversity, City Manager Chris Brady said he has asked that a wider net be cast in recruiting fire and police officers. That means advertising in more diverse publications where minority candidates or women would seek employment leads.
Likewise, the ballot measure would have little to no impact on undergraduate admissions practices at Arizona’s public universities. The schools consider only academic performance when deciding which applicants to accept. Additionally, the universities award financial aid based on grades or family income, not race or gender.
ASU does, however, consider race and gender for at least some graduate programs, such as the Arizona State University College of Law, said state Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, who was involved one year in screening applicants.
Herb Jackson, the Vice President of the Greater Phoenix Urban League, said the league would strongly oppose the initiative because it sends a negative message.
“I think Mr. Connerly needs to stay in California,” he said.
Tribune writers Jason Massad, Garin Groff and Ryan Gabrielson contributed to this report. Capitol Media Services also contributed.