Ward Connerly Speaks on Proposal 2 in Deposition

In a deposition taken as part of a lawsuit aimed at overturning the anti-affirmative action Proposal 2, Ward Connerly–the primary financial backer of the ballot initiative–admits that he knew that the proposal would likely result in less students of color in Michigan universities.


By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), a pro-affirmative action group that has organized protests and filed lawsuits around the country seeking to defend affirmative action from rightwing efforts to eliminate, has released a transcript and video of an October 2007 deposition of Ward Connerly. Connerly, who has been the primary backer of the anti-affirmative action Proposition 209 in California and Proposal 2 (the Michigan Civil Rights Initative) in Michigan, was deposed as part of a lawsuit filed by BAMN to overturn Proposal 2 in Michigan.

The 76-page deposition is worth reading, as Connerly makes it clear that he knew the consequences of Proposal 2’s passage–a decline in enrollment at state universities in Michigan by people of color–based on the consequences of Proposition 209 in California. Similarly, Connerly says that he was aware that Proposition 209 would have this effect. Beyond that, the Connerly’s comments are consistent with what he has said in the past downplaying the historical legacy of discrimination, downplaying the existence of racism, and claiming that African-Americans are not working hard enough to compete with white students.

However, it is his comments of the potential impacts on Michigan and how the campaign for Proposal 2 was organized that are probably the most interesting to our readers. As such, we have excerpted the majority of his comments here.

Connerly speaks about how Proposal 2 in Michigan would have the same effect of eliminating many affirmative action programs in the state:

Q: …so when you came to Michigan to bring the proposal to, you knew the same result would occur in Michigan, did you not?

A. I did.

Q. And you knew that in Michigan the Supreme Court had found that the policy being used by the University of Michigan in Grutter was legal at a federal level; isn’t that true?

A. For those who wanted to use it.

Q. And if you got a state ban, you knew that even those who wanted to use it wouldn’t be able to use it, didn’t you?

A. I knew that, but I also knew that the only way we’re going to close this academic gap between black and Latino on the one hand and Asian and white on the other, is not to keep papering over it with preferences, but to apply the tough love that’s necessary to get black and Latino students up to the bar. That was a value judgment then, it’s a value judgment now.

Q. Mr. Connerly, there was no question in your mind when you brought Proposal 2 that the University of Michigan would be virtually resegregated as the University of California Berkeley and UCLA have; is that not true?

A. I did not bring Proposal 2. I supported Proposal 2, but I did not bring Proposal 2, that’s a mischaracterization of the facts.

Q. When you supported Proposal 2; is that correct?

A. That’s correct.

Q. That was the outcome you wanted; is that correct?

A. No, that wasn’t the outcome I wanted. I wanted to be sure we could get black students and Latino-American students that were not performing well academically on a path to performance. I believe we will not do that as long as we perform the remedies that you obviously support and that is preferences. That does not solve the problem. They patch up the problem, Ms. Driver, they don’t solve the problem.

Connerly talks about his role in supporting Proposal 2 and the role that Michigan’s demographics had in impacting the vote and the decision:

Q: Did you believe when Proposal 2 was proposed in Michigan, you knew that the vast majority of voters in the state of Michigan were white; is that true?

A. As they are in most states.

Q. And, in fact, previously when you went into the

state of Washington you said that you in part went into the

state of Washington because the majority of voters were white?

A. That — when Ms. Foster, Heath Foster said that,

that is not something that I said.

Q. Okay.

A. That is not something that I said. I was invited to the state of Washington. I went there. We did not select — I did not select the state of Washington because it was white. That was not an accurate attribution on her part.

Q. Okay. And you selected the state of Michigan because the University of Michigan had succeeded at the Supreme Court in Grutter; is that correct?

A. I was invited to the state of Michigan and I went there with the expressed purpose of availing ourselves of that opportunity that the court allowed of its decision of Grutter and Gratz.

Q. And you knew the majority of voters were white?

A. How could one not know if one studies the facts?

Q. You knew that in California overwhelmingly white people had voted for proposal 209 and overwhelmingly black people and other minorities voted against it; is that correct?

A. Sure, I knew that.

Q. And you knew that had been the case in the state of Washington as well; is that not correct?

A. I knew the demographics.

Q. And you knew that in Michigan, because it was 83 percent white that if there was the same outcome and there was an overwhelming vote by white people for it and an overwhelming vote of black people against it, the proposal would still pass?

A. It would be reasonable to conclude that.

Q. And you went into Michigan knowing, therefore, that you were putting white people in the position of banning the only programs that the University of Michigan had said, the one program the University of Michigan said it needed to maintain an integrated and diverse student body; is that correct?

MR. FOUTZ: Objection. Lacks foundation. Assumes facts not in evidence, also calls for speculation.

THE WITNESS: I have this abiding faith that black people can also be convinced that treating anyone differently because of race and skin color is wrong.

MS. DRIVER: Q. It’s a little different —

A. I had that faith then, I have it now.

Q. It’s a little bit of a different question what I’m asking. I’m not asking about —

A. I know, but it’s a loaded question that you’re

framing on your terms.

Q. Okay.

A. I want you to understand my answer.

Q. I understand your answer. Let me go back to my question. You knew when you went into Michigan that you were putting white people in the position of being able to eliminate what the University of Michigan had argued in the Grutter case at the U.S. Supreme Court it had to have to maintain an integrated and diverse student body?

MR. FOUTZ: Same objections.

THE WITNESS: I knew that the people of Michigan, the people of Michigan, who include Arabs, who include, quote, whites, many of whom are Arab, who included blacks, Latinos, that the people of Michigan would vote, not that I would be putting whites in the position, as you characterize it, of eliminating this one precious program.

Q. But white people were 83 percent of the elected?

A. I don’t see it, maybe you do. I don’t see them as white people who are going to the polls to vote. They are people of Michigan going to the polls to vote. BAMN and others, I would add, did more to call attention to race and the race of voters than we ever did.

Q. Mr. Connerly, when you were a part of the leadership of the campaign —

A. I was not a part of the leadership of the campaign.

Q. So I don’t misspeak again —

A. Okay.

Q. How would you characterize your role in securing the passage of Proposal 2 in Michigan?

A. Helped to raise most of the money that financed the campaign, probably 90 percent of the funds that were raised I in one way or another helped to raise by calling people and urging them to support it. I was there whenever they needed me and asked for advice on how do we deal with this idiotic issue about the Ku Klux Klan that you in a sleazy fashion raise and being there, being available as they needed my counsel.

Q. And you knew that in the campaign to get Proposal 2 on the ballot that black signature gatherers were paid to lie to voters —

A. Wrong.

Q. About —

A. That’s your characterization, that is wrong.

Q. You knew there was a report by the civil rights commission targeting voter fraud; isn’t that true?

A. I’m aware of that. I also knew it was wrong, that we were not involved in any kind of targeted voter fraud.

Q. And you knew that there was a decision by a federal court judge, Judge Tarnow, that found that Jennifer Gratz and others involved in the campaign clearly either knew or were disingenuous in their presentation of the ways in which black signature gatherers were lying to people to get signatures?

MR. FOUTZ: Objection. Lacks foundation. Assumes facts not in evidence.

THE WITNESS: I did not believe then and I do not believe now that there was any voter fraud in the Michigan campaign. There was a disagreement about the use of the term affirmative action. They were saying, many of these signature gatherers, that affirmative action could be maintained as I understand it in the aftermath of the election about Proposal 2, that is true. It can be maintained. Socioeconomic affirmative action, race-neutral outreach could be maintained. There was a charge that the term civil rights was being misappropriated.

Q. Mr. Connerly, you, yourself said affirmative action is race preference s in at least one if not more interviews; isn’t that true?

A. I said in several interviews that affirmative action has become coterminous with race preferences the way it’s being used.

Q. When people are saying the term “affirmative action” they mean what you would call race preferences; isn’t that true?

A. I can’t say what all people mean.

Q. But that’s what you meant; isn’t that true?

A. When I used the term, and if you’ll look, I went to great pains to say this campaign will not end all affirmative action. I said that ad nauseam.

Q. But you knew that the average voter would think exactly what you thought, that the term affirmative action and the term race preference are one; isn’t that true?

A. That is precisely why I went to such great efforts to say that this will not end all affirmative action.

Q. And so you knew when those petition gatherers were going around and saying these programs are for affirmative action, they were lying, weren’t they?

A. Ms. Driver —

MR. FOUTZ: Objection. Objection. Lacks foundation. Assumes facts that are not in evidence. We’ll go with those for now.

THE WITNESS: I had not one idea of what the signature gatherers were saying to people, not a clue. I wasn’t involved in that phase of the effort.

MS. DRIVER: Q. But if they were saying that your ballot measure that Prop 2 was for affirmative action, you would say that that was a lie; isn’t that true?

A. No, I would not. I would say, yeah, make sure you’re careful in how you characterize this because there are certain forms of affirmative action that will be preserved. It’s for a certain kind. It is not for certain other kinds.

Q. And you knew when those signature gatherers were saying this would help black students get into college, that they were lying, didn’t you?

A. I —

MR. FOUTZ: Objection. Lacks foundation. Assumes facts not in evidence. Calls for hearsay and speculation.

THE WITNESS: I don’t know what they said to people. I wasn’t there.

MS. DRIVER: Q. But you knew it would not help black students, in any event, it was not going to help black students get into the University of Michigan to eliminate affirmative action.

A. We didn’t eliminate affirmative action.

Q. Eliminating affirmative action programs that took race into account as a factor in the admissions process, which was the University of Michigan’s system, you knew that eliminating that, which is what this law was conceived of to do, was going to lower, not increase, the number of black students that were admitted at the University of Michigan; isn’t that true?

A. I also thought, however, that in the fullness of time it would help.

Q. How long?

A. To change.

Q. How long did you think?

A. I don’t know, maybe ten years.

Connerly admits that the passage of Proposal 2 has made it difficult for the University of Michigan to maintain a diverse student body:

Q: To have them there, to have black students at the University of Michigan, you now know is extremely — it has been made much more difficult by the passage of Prop 2, hasn’t it?

A. Until we cure — until we and they correct that academic gap, yes, it is more difficult.

Q. So they won’t be there to give that perspective —

A. They are there. They may not be there in the numbers that you would like, but they are there.

Q. They’re there in too small numbers, aren’t they?

A. Is that really a question or what? I don’t know if it’s a small number.

Q. It is a question.

A. When they earn the right to be there, and I don’t care what the standard is, make sure it’s the same standard for everybody.

Q. This isn’t a color-blind society, is it, Mr. Connerly?

A. I’m not trying to make it a color-blind society, I just want our government to be color-blind.

Connerly also responds again to the role of the Ku Klux Klan in campaigning for the passage of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative and his controversial comments that praised the Ku Klux Klan:

Q. Okay. Because you’re saying — let me ask a different question. When the white people in the south in the Brown era defended segregation by saying it’s just the way things are, people choose to live together, white people choose to live together and we don’t have any problem with it and all of that, they were defending segregation, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. And when Trent Lott was praising Strom Thurmon, he was asserting that being for segregation, and you say this about him, didn’t necessarily mean that he was a racist, even though the segregation that Strom Thurmon supported included white people making arguments that it was just free association?

A. Let me share with you an experience that I’ve had, which has helped to shape my tolerance, if you will, on this issue.

My wife is of a different, quote, race than I am. When we married in 1962, my in-laws objected to that marriage. They had come from Oklahoma, one from Oklahoma, one from Idaho. Their view is God had made the races differently and it was God’s will that the races remain separately, separate. Not that one was inferior to the other, it was just the way that God intended it. He made horses and sheep and human beings and they were supposed to be separate. By the time they died, these two people, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law, were the only parents that I had. To suggest that they were racist did not fit with the people that I grew to know. They grew up, Ms. Driver, at a different time, at a different place, different perspective, wrong perspective. It wasn’t that they were racist, it was just the way they had been raised. They had subsequently came to change that view and I still believe that people can change.

So I don’t rush out and say he’s bad, he’d bad, he’s a racist. Shun him. My view is, as I said in Michigan, if the Ku Klux Klan has changed their view, those on your side can portray me as a guy who is supporting the Ku Klux Klan, no, not at all. They’re a hateful group. What I’m saying is if they’ve changed, God bless them. We want them to change. We should work every day of our lives to change them.

Q. Nothing changed about their position, Mr. Connerly. They knew that the passage of this proposal would mean the exclusion of black students from the University of Michigan and they supported that outcome?

A. I’m not supporting the Ku Klux Klan, I don’t know about the Klan, you probably know more about them than I do because you’ve done the research. I have nothing to do with them. They are not part of our campaign. I’m explaining to you about my issue about this issue of segregation and there are people who believe in it who may not necessarily believe that blacks are inferior, just that blacks or any other group for that matter ought to be separated from others because that’s the way God intended it. Flawed, very wrong, inherently a wrong philosophy.

Fight to save affirmative action continues

Despite the passage of Proposal 2, activists continue to organize to protect affirmative action in the state of Michigan, with multiple lawsuits aiming to prevent the implementation of Proposal 2.

Due to the importance of continuing efforts to fight the implementation of Proposal 2, Media Mouse has reprinted this article by Diane Bukowski of the Michigan Citizen.

DETROIT — Last week, Michigan voters banned affirmative action. Many believe the ban will further disenfranchise Black and minority students, workers and contractors. Proposal 2 was passed by a 58 to 42 percent margin on Nov. 7. Yet, civil rights activists say the fight isn’t over.

Activists are waiting for the results of a pending lawsuit and have filed an additional case to ensure affirmative action continues.

“We believe Proposal 2 violates the 14th Amendment [which guarantees equal rights] as well as the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the University of Michigan case,” said attorney Shanta Driver of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). In the 2003 U-M Grutter case, the Supreme Court upheld the use of affirmative action to ensure diversity at U-M’s law school. Driver believes the only way to enforce the Civil Rights Act is through affirmative action.”

Earlier this year, By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) along with Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Operation King’s Dream filed a lawsuit which is still pending in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. The lawsuit charged that Prop. 2 reached the ballot through “racially targeted” voter fraud.

The original ballot proposal, sponsored by the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), bans all so-called “race and gender preferences” in state and local government hiring, contracting, and school admissions. Many of those who signed the MCRI petition testified that they were lied to by circulators claiming it supported affirmative action.

“If we succeed at the Sixth Circuit,” said Driver about the pending case, “Proposal 2 would be tossed out. It should never have been on the ballot. A federal judge has already ruled that it was based on massive fraud.”

Driver and attorney George Washington also filed a second suit Nov. 8 asking the federal courts for immediate injunctive relief blocking Proposal 2’s implementation, on behalf of BAMN, the Rainbow PUSH coalition, numerous students, six union locals, and the Defend Affirmative Action Party, a University of Michigan student organization.

“We now have the state of California [as an example] and the effects Proposition 209 had there to use in our arguments. Where affirmative action programs are ended, we end up with the state allowing discrimination against Black and minority students, workers and contractors to exist,” said Driver.

Studies since the passage of Proposition 209 in California in 1996 have shown that it drastically cut the already small number of Black and Latino students at state universities, as well as the number of contracts going to Black and women-owned firms.

Driver said Prop. 2 was on the ballot with the support of Democrats and Republicans–both parties needed significant voter turnout.

“The referendum process is currently being used with complete cynicism by both parties to increase voter turn-out,” said Driver. “Instead of being used as part of a democratic forum to bolster the gains of the civil rights movement, it is being used to turn them back. Twenty years after Brown v. the Board of Education, if there had been referenda held in southern states to overturn Brown, they would have succeeded.”

She also said the question of civil rights cannot be decided in the isolation of a voting booth, where voters can secretly take advantage of their white privilege, but must be dealt with under a social and transparent process.

Defendants in the second suit include newly re-elected Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who also received an overwhelming vote of 56 to 42 percent. As chief executive, she is responsible for its ultimate enforcement, although she campaigned against Prop. 2 and filed an amicus brief in the voter fraud case.

In a statement, Granholm said, “I am sad and disappointed voters said yes to Proposal 2. Passage of Proposal 2 eliminates some of the tools we have used to promote diversity and create equal opportunity in Michigan, even though diversity and equal opportunity are critical goals for our state.”

Granholm issued an executive directive for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission to begin an immediate investigation of the possible effects of Proposal 2 including its impact on “the ability of the State of Michigan to compete within the global economy.” The Commission, which found massive voter fraud in the collection of signatures by the MCRI after four hearings earlier this year, will report back 90 days after the investigation begins.

Max McPhail, spokesman for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which was funded by wealthy right-wing businessman Ward Connerly and numerous right-wing foundations said the passage of Prop. 2 is a “huge step forward for our state.”

McPhail is no relation to the City of Detroit’s General Counsel Sharon McPhail, who represented Mayor Kilpatrick as a party in the voter fraud suit.

Proposal 2 Passes in Michigan; Other Rightwing Ballot Initiatives Passed Around the Country

Yesterday voters in Michigan approved a ban on affirmative action programs. The vote was heavily skewed along racial lines, with the majority of white voters approving the ban while people of color overwhelmingly opposed it. The passage of Proposal 2 and other rightwing ballot initiatives across the country overshadow the “victories” being claimed by Democrats and progressives.

Last night, Governor Jennifer Granholm defeated the far right Republican candidate Dick DeVos and Democrats took control of the Michigan House of Representatives, while at the national level Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, ousted Republican governors in six states, and will possibly gain control of the Senate pending the results of Virginia’s Senate race which was still undecided as of Wednesday night. Following the election results, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced his resignation. However, these “victories” are overshadowed by the passage of the anti-affirmative action Proposal 2. The anti-affirmative action measure—a product of deception from the beginning when it was named the “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative” and when it attained ballot access due to a “massive campaign of fraud and deceit”passed by a wide margin of 58% to 42% with Michigan joining two other states—California and Washington—in banning affirmative action.

The passage of Proposal 2 is a significant victory for the right in Michigan and a defeat for people of color living in Michigan. While few organized groups in Michigan supported Proposal 2 and indeed some of the only organizations supporting the proposal were white supremacist organizations such as the Council of Conservative Citizens and the Ku Klux Klan, it is nevertheless a victory for a nationwide right that has long sought to eliminate the gains of the civil rights movement. Ward Connerly and his American Civil Rights Institute, who were the primary financial backers of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, have long been supported by the organized far right in this country including the Lynne and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Richard Mellon Scaiffe Foundation, and the John M. Olin Foundation. Moreover, Proposal 2’s passage will likely embolden its white supremacist and racist supporters and indeed the proposal is already being discussed positively on racist websites, with the leader of Michigan’s National Socialist Movement favorably weighing in on the passage the anti-affirmative action measure. In the two years leading up to the passage of Proposal 2, white supremacist groups advocated for the passage of the proposal as they clearly understood that it would both send a message to people of color that they are not wanted in the state of Michigan and that its passage would have the concrete effect of eliminating programs designed to assist people of color in overcoming some of the systemic forms of inequality and apartheid in Michigan.

Aside from the likelihood that admissions to universities across the state for people of color will fall as they did in California after the passage of Proposition 187, the vote for Proposal 2 sends a message to people of color that they are not valued as members of society. Instead, people of color were essentially told by this vote to stay in the highly segregated neighborhoods and schools that Michigan is known for as one of the most segregated states in the nation. Exit poll data from the election is quite instructive regarding who supported the proposal, making it clear that it was the white male power structure that supported the ban on affirmative action, with over 60% of white males voting to eliminate affirmative action. Similarly, the proposal set suburban and rural voters—who tend to be white—against people of color, with suburban and rural areas supporting the measure by over 60%. Some of the more interesting numbers:

proposal 2 exit poll graphs

There are clearly a variety of elements at play in the vote—lack of understanding about what exactly affirmative action does, lack of substantive media coverage, lack of substantive work on this issue from the white “left,” an organized campaign opposed to Proposal 2 that failed in many respects to identify Proposal 2 as a concerted attack on people of color, and a primary focus on the gubernatorial race on the part of many Democratic and progressive activists

The ban will likely now be the subject of a variety of lawsuits due both to uncertainties regarding its reach and as opponents of the ban scramble to find a way to lessen the negative effects of the proposal. Universities across the state will have to begin a process of evaluating outreach programs, scholarships, and grant awards that target people of color or specific genders. K-12 programs that target specific groups based on race or gender will also need to be reworked, removing yet another means of addressing racial inequality in the state’s education system. The University of Michigan has pledged to continue the fight in the courts with University President Mary Sue Coleman stating that there are “serious questions as to whether this initiative is lawful” and that the University will seek the permission of the courts to continue this year’s admissions cycle under current guidelines and will devote legal resources to challenging the measure. The two main opposition groups—One United Michigan and By Any Means Necessary (BAMN)—have not yet publicly announced any steps for continued organizing around affirmative action in Michigan. BAMN has a previously planned December 4 “March on Washington to Save Brown v. Board of Education” to coincide with the Supreme Court’s hearing of arguments in two lawsuits seeking to eliminate measures promoting integration and equal opportunity in education, but has not said anything publicly regarding the passage of Proposal 2. Representatives from One United Michigan have been quoted widely in the media stating that it is now up to Michigan politicians to figure out how to ensure equal opportunity and that there will likely now be a series of lawsuits over the ban.

Along with the passage of Proposal 2, the nationwide “victory” being claimed by many Democrats and “progressives” is also lessened by the passage of a series of rightwing ballot proposals that ban same-sex marriage and make English the official language for governmental purposes. Same-sex marriage bans—one of which was passed in Michigan in 2004—were passed by wide margins in Tuesday’s election. In Tennessee, a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman passed by a margin of 81% to 19%. Similar measures passed across the country, in Wisconsin by 59% to 41% margin, Virginia by 57% to 43%, South Dakota by 52% to 48%, South Carolina by 78% to 22%, Idaho by 63% to 37%, Colorado by 56% to 44%, while votes are still being counted in Arizona on a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage. In Colorado, a measure designed to give same-sex couples the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples was defeated by a margin of 53% to 47%. In Arizona, a measure making English the official language of the state and ending the production of dual-language materials passed by a 74% to 26% margin sending the same message to immigrants living in Arizona that Proposal 2 sent to people of color in Michigan and that same-sex marriage bans send to GBLT people around the country—that they are not wanted.

Proposal 2 Backer on the KKK: "God Bless Them"

Ward Connerly, the primary financial supporter of anti-affirmative action Proposal 2, can be seen saying “god bless them” regarding the Ku Klux Klan’s support of Proposal 2 according to research conducted by Media Mouse.

Ward Connerly, the primary financial supporter of the anti-affirmative action Proposal 2 (the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative), can be seen in a video interview saying “god bless them” regarding the Ku Klux Klan’s position in support of Proposal 2 according to research conducted by Media Mouse. The clip, shown below, features Michigan Civil Rights Commission member Michael Bernstein stating that the Ku Klux Klan is one of the only organized entities to support the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), to which Connerly responds “If the Ku Klux Klan thinks that equality is right, god bless them.”

The comment appears in a DVD documentary titled “Arise: The Battle over Affirmative Action” that looks at the nationwide movement to eliminate affirmative action. The video was produced by Firelight Media with the clip above highlighting both the ongoing support of white supremacist and racist organizations for Proposal 2 as well as the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s failure to adequately address why racist organizations are endorsing Proposal 2. Beginning with the signature gathering process in 2004, racist organizations have supported Proposal 2, with the Mystic Knights of the Ku Klux Klan organizing its members to circulate petitions to place the anti-affirmative action proposal on the ballot. This participation by the Ku Klux Klan has continued, with the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan supporting the proposal by distributing literature both earlier this year and last month urging people to vote in favor of Proposal 2. The most vocal support of Proposal 2 by racist groups has come from the Michigan chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that has organized a public rally, hosted meetings to discuss organizing strategies, coordinated a letter writing campaign to newspapers, and made a lengthy document supporting the MCRI available on their website. Moreover, Caledonia resident and leader of the Michigan Council of Conservative Citizens, John Raterink, has been photographed shaking the hand of Ward Connerly.

Despite the fact that white supremacist organizations continue to organize in support of Proposal 2, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative spokespeople have failed to adequately address this support and what exactly it means if white supremacists are some of the only organized groups supporting Proposal 2. In addition to the “god bless them” comment regarding the Ku Klux Klan from Ward Connerly, the MCRI has tended to downplay the support of these organizations by arguing that they did seek it out. However, the dismissive attitude displayed by Connerly and Jennfier Gratz, the executive director of the MCRI, has amounted to tacit support advocacy by the Klan and other racists, with Gratz being asked in the Grand Rapids Press on October 24 about the support of the Council of Conservative Citizens, to which she responded that “even a broken clock is right twice a day.”

It should be seen as no surprise that groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Council of Conservative Citizens are supporting Proposal 2, as it is an initiative clearly designed to eliminate the gains of the civil rights movement. While affirmative action has been a positive step in addressing the history of institutional and systematic oppression of people of color and women by providing opportunity and access to educational institutions and employment, the elimination of affirmative action would mean a return to Jim Crow era de facto segregation and racism. The threat posed by eliminating affirmative action is very real in any state, but especially in Michigan, as the state is one of the most segregated states in the country.

Ku Klux Klan Distributes Literature Supporting Proposal 2

Three weeks after Media Mouse revealed that white supremacist groups in Michigan are organizing support for the passage of the anti-affirmative action Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (Proposal 2), there are new reports that these organizations are continuing to organize support for the measure. A Ku Klux Klan group has distributed literature advocating for the passage of the proposal while the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens has organized a letter writing campaign in support of the proposal.

Last month, Media Mouse published an article showing how white supremacist organizations are supporting Proposal 2/the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI). The Michigan chapter leader of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, John Raterink, has used his organization to actively support the campaign and has even highlighted a photograph of himself shaking the hand of Ward Connerly, the primary financial backer of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI). In addition, Media Mouse documented the fact that two Ku Klux Klan groups in Michigan have also supported the MCRI, both in campaigning for the proposal now that it is on the ballot and in collecting signatures to place it on the ballot. An article based on our research was published last month in the Grand Rapids Press that cited Jennifer Gratz, the Executive Director of the MCRI, saying that “even a broken clock is right twice a day,” essentially stating that while they did not ask for the Council of Conservative Citizens support, that they are right to oppose affirmative action. Ward Connerly, similarly stated that these issues of racism are a distraction from the real issue. However, the support given by white supremacist organizations cannot be ignored, both in terms of the what it says about the intent of the proposal and because it keeps coming up. An article published last month in the Detroit Free Press highlighted the fact that the Ku Klux Klan recently distributed literature supporting the MCRI in southeast Michigan. According to the article, the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan distributed copies of the March 2006 issue of the Klansmen’s Voice, a nationally distributed Ku Klux Klan newspaper, that features quotes Jennifer Gratz of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.

Moreover, the Michigan Council of Conservative Citizens is currently running a campaign of letter writing in support of the MCRI. According to the organization, they are writing letters to the editor of Michigan newspapers in support of Proposal 2. These letters have appeared in The Grand Rapids Press (October 8) and the Battle Creek Enquirer (October 8). It is worth noting that in the case of the Grand Rapids Press editorial, it was signed “John Raterink, Chairman, Michigan Council of Conservative Citizens,” with no disclaimer stating that the Council is a white supremacist organization. Raterink has also posted on the American Renaissance website about how the Michigan Council of Conservative Citizens will be “doubling its efforts” on the issue. The American Renaissance is a racist newspaper that attempts to develop a scientific justification for racism while ignoring the more overt forms of racism practiced by the Ku Klux Klan and neo-nazi groups.

MCRI Financial Backer Ward Connerly Speaks on Affirmative Action Panel

Yesterday at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), a panel discussion was held on affirmative action featuring the primary funder of the anti-affirmative action Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), Ward Connerly.

Ward Connerly, the California businessman who has organized anti-affirmative action measures around the country and who has primarily funded the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) or Proposal 2, spoke Wednesday at a panel discussion on affirmative action at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in his second Grand Rapids appearance. The panel also featured three other panelists including national renown, conservative commentator and Fox News contributor Linda Chavez, NAACP Washington bureau director Hillary Shelton, and attorney for the Racial Justice Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Mark Fancher. The panel was attended by a couple hundred GVSU students, faculty, and community members, with panelists drawing frequent applause for their statements. The moderator of the event—Jennifer Moss of WOOD TV 8—set the context for the panel by reading the ballot language and describing the issue as “one of the most contentious issues” on the ballot, an interesting statement given the lack of coverage of the MCRI in the corporate media. Moss went on to share a recent poll on the MCRI showing that the ballot proposal is very much still an open issue, with 44% of voters opposing it, 41% supporting, and 15% undecided.

The panel was structured so that each panelist received a 2 minute opening statement, followed by a series of four questions posed by the moderator, and then questions submitted by the audience and chosen by the moderator. Hillary Shelton of the NAACP opened the discussion by explaining that affirmative action is a tool for equal opportunity and that it is not about granting “preferences” as the rhetoric of MCRI’s supporters asserted, but rather that it was about eliminating the “preferences of the good ole boy network” and giving opportunities and access to people of color and women who have been systematically denied opportunities because of their race and/or gender. Ward Connerly responded that while race is a contentious issue in the United States, that we need to work towards a society that is “colorblind” and in which the government does not consider race. He argued that the government currently does this and treats people differently based on race and that such actions are “morally wrong.” Mark Fancher of the ACLU responded that all affirmative action programs would be banned with the passage of Proposal 2 and pointed out that many opponents of affirmative action regularly engage in it, citing the judicial appointment of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the racial make-up of President George W. Bush’s cabinet. Fancher also stressed that the proposal is an amendment to the constitution and that it will be permanent if passed. Conservative commentator Linda Chavez explained how she participated in the civil rights movement before the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because of the United States’ 200 year failure to live up to its ideals, but asserted that with the passage of this act, failure was overcome and now everyone can be judged equally based on merit.

In the questions that followed the opening remarks, the panelists addressed a number of frequently raised issues surrounding both affirmative action generally and the MCRI specifically. The panelists addressed the “successes” and “failures” of affirmative action. Shelton argued that affirmative action’s biggest success has been granting of opportunity where it does not exist in areas such as universities and corporate America. Fancher echoed Shelton in explaining that it has granted opportunity to those previously denied, but he said affirmative action’s weakness is that there is still an under representation of people of color and women in many key areas and that the conditions of racism that necessitated the creation of affirmative action programs still exist. Shelton explained that the right—exemplified by people like Connerly and Chavez—have distorted affirmative action by talking about quotas, which are illegal and “preferences,” which affirmative action seeks to eliminate, and have shifted the dialogue away from the conditions that justify affirmative action. Even the conservatives Connerly and Chavez stated that affirmative action has been successful in breaking down barriers to equal treatment, although they differed in concluding that affirmative action has outlived its usefulness. It was also during this time that Connerly articulated an oft-repeated assertion during the debate that eliminating affirmative action will get rid of the “resentment” towards people of color that are—in his argument—constantly second-guessed at universities as being there only because of affirmative action.

Connerly also spoke about how he believed that currently, unqualified students are consistently being admitted into universities where they are “unable to compete” and consequently are failing out of college. He bemoaned the fact that because of the admission processes that he described (it is very much debatable as to whether these exist and there was no substantive discussion of them), “historically black universities” are suffering, as they are unable to enroll students who are choosing other universities that they may not be prepared for. Of course, any perceived lack of preparedness would no doubt be due to a history of structural racism and inadequate allotment of resources for urban school districts, but there was no serious discussion of this issue. Instead, Linda Chavez stated that there has been a failure to address educational inferiority based on race due to public policy and said that proponents of affirmative action are admitting “unqualified” students into the universities as a means of addressing this. Fancher described the idea the false concern of Proposal 2 supporters over students of color and their alleged inability to compete as paternalistic and stressed that the MCRI is a measure simply designed to put students in the “right” schools, emphasizing the fact that Connerly was essentially telling students of color that they should “go back to black schools where you belong.” Shelton asserted that the policies were the “politics of relegation” and that the proponents of Proposal 2 only want students of color in areas where they approve—such as athletics or music programs—but that they will try to stop them when they move into other areas.

Unfortunately, while the panel was focusing on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, none of the panelists were from Michigan and consequently did not have much insight into the specific effects that Proposal 2 will have on the state if passed. Despite this, there was considerable discussion over what forms of affirmative action Proposal 2 bans, with opponents of the MCRI arguing that it will ban all forms of affirmative action including public health programs. The debate over what will be banned under Proposal 2 became quite contentious at times, with Shelton and Fancher arguing that public health programs targeted specifically to communities of color or women could be potential targets of lawsuits and Connerly arguing that the MCRI will only apply to the areas of public education, public contracting, and public employment. In order to address this question, the panelists looked to the Connerly supported Proposition 209 in California that ended affirmative action in the 1990s. Hillary Shelton described how after the passage of Proposition 209 there was a decrease of African Americans and other populations of color in California’s universities and that there has been a lack of outreach towards people of color and women. Similarly, Fancher explained that this year the University of California system has the lowest number of black students since 1973, that women in the construction field have dropped by 33%, and that there has been a 39% drop in tenured African American faculty. Connerly argued that there are more black students in the University of California system now than before Proposition 209 and that they are now at more appropriate schools where they are “qualified” to be, but there was no specific discussion of these numbers. Connerly also went on to state that it is “ludicrous to say that school don’t want blacks” as there is significant competition among all universities for black students and that the “mindless blather about diversity” coming from proponents of affirmative action is just a rhetorical cover for treating people differently based on race. Of course, Connerly offered no proof to support this claim.

During the panel, an audience submitted questions that brought up issues concerning who will benefit from the passage of the MCRI. Mark Fancher stated that the only one who stands to benefit from the MCRI is Ward Connerly, who was selected by a group of white male funders to be a national spokesperson for the anti-affirmative action movement and is paid each year to promote this view. He pointed out that corporations, universities, Michigan’s gubernatorial candidates, and most others have come out in opposition to the MCRI. Connerly said that he did not know who will benefit financially but rejected and dismissed attacks by Fancher and said that he is disappointed that the debate has degenerated into personal attacks. Connerly chose to ignore questions about who is funding and supporting his work, thereby sidestepping the fact that conservative foundations have funded Connerly. $5.1 million in funding was awarded to Connerly’s American Civil Rights Institute from 1997 to 2005. Nor was there any discussion of the fact that white supremacist groups are supporting and campaigning in support of the MCRI and the questions that their support raises about the true goals of the initiative. During the debate Connerly also failed to address Fancher’s point that many petition signatures were gather fraudulently—including many in Grand Rapids—a claim that has been backed up by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission who issued a report stating that the MCRI “is based upon a massive campaign of fraud and deceit.”

Lawsuit Filed Seeking Injunction against the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative

A lawsuit was filed last week in United States District Court by opponents of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI). The lawsuit seeks an injunction that will removing the MCRI from the ballot on the basis that the fraud documented by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission in the campaign to get the MCRI on the ballot was a violation of both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

On Thursday, a lawsuit was filed in United States District Court seeking an injunction to prevent the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) from being placed on the November ballot. The lawsuit, filed by Operation King’s Dream/BAMN, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the Macomb County NAACP, and numerous African-American and Latino individuals, charges that the MCRI’s financial backer Ward Connerly, the MCRI’s Executive Director Jennifer Gratz, the MCRI, the Michigan Secretary of State, and the State Board of Canvassers violated the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 during the collection of petition signatures and in making the decision to place the MCRI on the ballot. In addition, two of Detroit’s labor unions—AFSCME Local 207 and Local 312—signed on to the lawsuit due to the large number of members who believed they were signing a petition in support of affirmative action.

The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) would ban affirmative action programs in the state of Michigan and has consequently drawn considerable opposition from both regular citizens and organizations such as By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) and One United Michigan. The lawsuit filed on Thursday was a product of organizing done by BAMN who actively worked to prevent the MCRI from being placed on the November ballot. Indeed, it was BAMN’s organizing efforts that led to hearings by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission investigating the question of voter fraud in the campaign to gather the necessary signatures to place the MCRI on the ballot. The Civil Rights Commission gathered over a thousand pages of testimony outlining “systemic” fraud in the campaign to place the MCRI on the ballot while issuing a report recommending that the state of Michigan remove the MCRI from the November 2006 ballot (testimony was collected in Grand Rapids). The findings of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission are the basis of the lawsuit, with national spokesperson for Operation King’s Dream stating that “After the Civil Rights Commission’s report, no one can pretend that they do not know the massive nature of the fraud that the MCRI has perpetrated.” The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 125,000 African-Americans who were fraudulently convinced to sign a petition that Attorney George B. Washington told the media gets to the question of “how do they get 125,000 black people to sign a petition so their kids can’t go to college and the answer is obvious,” with the lawsuit and Washington concluding that the signatures were gathered through fraudulent means.

The text of the case filed last Thursday specifically charge that Connerly, Gratz, and the MCRI violated Section 2 of the Civil Rights Act in their systemic and racially-targeted fraud used to obtain ballot access for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. The filing goes on to state that the Secretary of State and members of Michigan’s Board of Canvassers have violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in supporting the MCRI’s inclusion on the November ballot without an investigation. The plaintiffs explain that they believe a filing in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan is appropriate as a substantial number of those affected and targeted by the fraud live within the district. In the sub-section “Statement of Facts,” attorneys filing the lawsuit further argue that campaigners for the MCRI purposely concealed its intent in their petition language and actively misrepresented the MCRI to black voters as being a constitutional amendment in support of affirmative action rather than one that would ban it.

A decision in the case will be made before September 1st when ballots are printed for distribution overseas, with the lawsuit seeking to have a decision on the expedite the process of deciding the case.

Forum in Grand Rapids on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI)

On Tuesday, the Grand Rapids Bar Association hosted a forum on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), a ballot proposal that would ban affirmative action programs in the state of Michigan. Two of the biggest proponents of the measure, California businessman Ward Connerly and MCRI Executive Director Jennifer Gratz, spoke in favor of the measure and explained how they believed the solution to racism in society could be achieved on a “one-on-one basis” and that diversity is a “code word” that means nothing more than a quota giving preference to one race over another.

On Tuesday, the Grand Rapids Bar Association hosted a forum on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), a ballot initiative that proposes to ban affirmative action programs in the state of Michigan. The panel featured two notable proponents of the initiative—Ward Connerly, the California businessman who is funding the effort to eliminate affirmative action in Michigan as he did with California’s Proposition 209, and Jennifer Gratz, current Executive Director of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) and the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that successfully struck down the University of Michigan’s point system for undergraduate admissions. Sister Monica Kostielney of the Michigan Catholic Conference and Bruce Courtade, the head of the Grand Rapids Bar Association, represented the opposing view. During the wide-ranging discussion, the panel debated the use of race in university admissions, strategies to confront the ongoing racism in society, the record of Ward Connerly’s Proposition 209 in California, and the ways in which society benefits from diversity.

In his opening remarks, California businessman and former University of California Regent Ward Connerly described how the United States has long struggled with the issue of race and shared his view that as one who grew up in the deep south, he understands that “racial oppression is one of most humiliating, dehumanizing things that can happen to a person.” From this basis, Connerly described how the United States made the collective decision in the 1960s to work towards a “colorblind” society and that the 1964 Civil Rights Act says that people will not be judged with regard to race. For Connerly, the 1964 Civil Rights Act provides a basis on which affirmative action programs that look at race are illegal and discriminate against people on the virtue of race. Connerly argued that Michigan “cannot build a civil order classifying your people and treating them differently based on those attributes in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.” To this end, Connerly stated that the MCRI is designed to further compliance with the Civil Rights Act and eliminate discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, and country of origin.

Jennifer Gratz, Executive Director of the MCRI, made similar arguments when explaining that the Initiative’s supporters “want to get to place where race isn’t a factor in decision making” both in everyday life and in government and corporate policy. She argued that there is a contradiction in the way in which state institutions teach people to ignore race and overcome racism yet, in her opinion, the state government treats people differently based on race each day through bad affirmative action policies that have “invaded all aspects of our lives.” Gratz stated that race is a factor for school admissions at the elementary level through the graduate level and that combined with racial preferences to gain employment and government contracts, she believes that there is currently no place where “the playing field is even.” For Gratz, the MCRI is an opportunity to get the state “back on track” and eliminate race as a factor in school admissions, employment, and government contracting. She also responded to opponents who have argued that the MCRI will ban all affirmative action programs and pointed out that the MCRI allows job openings to continue to be promoted to as wide an audience as possible and will allow efforts to keep testing from being biased towards one group or another.

Sister Monica Kostielney’s opening remarks argued that the MCRI raises the question of race and gender relations in society and described how racism is still “alive and well” in Michigan. Kostielney explained that affirmative action was developed to help people of color achieve in an unwelcoming environment and argued that in her view, affirmative action is the best way to move forward against racism. She described how not everyone in society begins at the same point due to the history of racism in the United States and that as a result, affirmative action is a means of addressing the affects of current and past racism and that society has a responsibility to overcome past injustices. The discussion was also expanded beyond race by Kostielney, who pointed out that affirmative action programs allow for outreach to underrepresented people in a variety of fields such as men in nursing or women in math and science careers and that it has been instrumental in closing the gender gap. However, Kostielney observed that there was much work to be done as women have many high profile positions in Michigan such as the Governorship, yet remain disproportionately represented and continue to earn sixty-seven cents per dollar that men earn. Kostielney also opposed the MCRI on technical grounds, stating that the state constitution is not the appropriate place to address admissions and hiring practices.

Opening remarks by Bruce Courtade, chair of the Grand Rapids Bar Association, reflected how broad the opposition is to the MCRI. Courtade is what he described as someone who would be expected to support the MCRI—a white, male, conservative Republican living in Kent County—yet he is “adamantly opposed to the Initiative.” Courtade described how he grew up in the very white Dearborn Heights and that he benefited in college at University of Michigan from the school’s diversity and that his experiences there made him aware of the need for diversity in Grand Rapids’ Bar Association. Courtade explained that the Bar’s efforts to recruit attorneys of color have been largely unsuccessful and that facing that reality, state affirmative action programs to recruit such attorneys are desperately needed. Ideally, Courtade would like to see a society where race is not a factor, but he said that day has yet to arrive and that consequently, the MCRI would be a step back that “drives a wedge and will harm future generations.”

Following opening remarks, the panel was opened up to questions from the moderator and the audience, with questions touching on a variety of issues related to racism and discrimination in Michigan. During the question and answer period, Ward Connerly stated that affirmative action has failed to eradicate racism and that while opponents of the MCRI say that they would like to see a society where race is not a factor, they fail to realize that there is a simple solution to the problem. Connerly argued that “if you want to get beyond race… you just stop talking about it, you stop practicing it, you start treating people as individuals” and explained that he found this principle to be easy to apply in his own life as he treats people on the basis of equality. Connerly brought up this argument when he reiterated near the end of the forum that “race must be purged from the body politick” and that the solution to racism and sexism is to simply treat other people how you want to be treated. Similarly, Connerly stated that “frequently the term diversity is mindless blather” and it is a “code word” that is thrown around, an argument that was also picked up by Jennifer Gratz who argued that “diversity is a code word” that refers to the functional equivalent of a quota where percentages are used to preference people instead of judging them on an individual basis. Connerly’s “one-on-one” approach to solving racism certainly was a poor substitute from the affirmative action programs that he argued have failed to overcome racism in the state.

There was also debate over the banning affirmative action in California via Connerly’s Proposition 209. Connerly was the first to bring this legacy up, stating that there were “more students overall in the University of California system now without preferences” than before Proposition 209. Bruce Courtade challenged Connerly on this statement and charged that the proponents of the MCRI are looking at the remedy—affirmative action—as the problem when the problem is the “racism that is everywhere in the state of Michigan” and that racism remains unaddressed. While Courtade argued that the results of banning affirmative action would be somewhat different in Michigan due to it being a different state, he said that you could learn from California that at elite institutions minority representation has plummeted. He cited recent statistics at UCLA that show that of 4,852 freshmen only 96 (2%) are African Americans, and of those, 20 are recruited athletes. Connerly acknowledged that minority representation will go down if Michigan colleges are granting preferences based on race, but argued that this has more to do with the “huge problem” with the academic performance of African Americans. Connerly told his fellow African-Americans that they need to “start doing heavy lifting that you are going to have to do at some point” and to start working harder as the “crutch” of affirmative action will be eliminated sooner or later by the Supreme Court—if not by the MCRI—and that it is time for “black students… to get yourselves better prepared.” He cited Bill Cosby and expressed strong support for Cosby’s remedy of “personal responsibility” in the African American community. Similarly, Courtade explained how before Proposition 209 when outreach for women in construction industry, concrete gains by women increased their numbers in construction jobs, but Proposition 209 flat-lined increases.

Predictably, Jennifer Gratz focused many of her comments on the University of Michigan’s admission process, despite the fact that the school has already altered its admissions procedures in response to the Supreme Court ruling in her case. While Gratz talked extensively about a grid system where two grids existed for determining which applicants would get in to the university, Bruce Courtade pointed out that the University of Michigan eliminated that system before Gratz’s lawsuit and stopped the point system after it was struck down by the Supreme Court. Of course, Gratz also failed to address other factors in admissions such as family name, history, athletic skill, and reputation of high school and argued that candidates need to be judged on an individual basis and not give any preferences based on race. She also did not mention that no unqualified candidates were admitted to the school. Whereas Gratz argued that “diversity is a good goal” but that the University of Michigan’s admission standards trumped equal treatment under the law, it was also pointed out that in Michigan where low skill, high wage jobs are no longer available, education is a crucial factor and that the so-called “level playing field” sought by MCRI proponents can only exist once everyone has an equal education. Courdate also stated that he believed that “we are condemning the next generation of black students” if they are systemically denied admission to Michigan universities once affirmative action programs are eliminated.

This forum can also be listened to online.