Why is one man trying to end affirmative action? ADAM MATTHEWS chronicles Ward Connerly's education crusade.
A short while ago, Ward Connerly, the indefatigable anti-affirmative-action crusader, was visiting Kevin Johnson, the former guard for the Phoenix Suns. Johnson is a Democrat who runs the St. Hope Academy, which helps at-risk kids. He is also running for mayor of Sacramento. "I was making my database available to him to get contributions," Connerly recalls. "And I'm walking out and this attractive black woman looked at me and said, ‘Are you who I think you are?'""And I said, ‘Who do you think I am?'""Ward Connerly?" the woman replied, her face registering her shock."That's who I am.""What are you doing here?" she asked him."And I said, ‘I'm supporting my friend.'"For Connerly, 69, widely credited with halving the black student population at the University of California at Berkeley, the encounter carried great significance. Here, a man who has dedicated the better part of his life to dismantling affirmative action suddenly felt pigeonholed. "Why do we put people into these boxes and say that they're monolithic of thought?" he says now, reclining in his chair at the Westin hotel in Washington, D.C. "The general notion is that I just want to take away opportunities for minorities rather than [that] I don't think what we're doing now works. There is a better way to solve the problem."Ward Connerly is seated comfortably in a dining room that opens onto a rear patio of the cushy Westin. He seems at ease in these environs, attired in the uniform of a middle-aged man of means: chinos, a white-and-blue-checked button-down, a navy blazer, sensible loafers. A neat moustache frames his mouth. He has high cheekbones, significant jowls, and straight salt-and-pepper hair that rings a prominent bald spot. His default expression is skepticism. A few tense moments earlier, his face creased and his eyes bore into mine. He was trying to figure out if he was being set up for another hit piece.As the most vilified conservative black man since Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly has grown tired of defending himself. He has walked off the stage when confronted by hostile college students, and said no to many interviews. He has built a career on taking stances unpopular with both blacks and conservatives, and expects the criticism, he says, to an extent. "I'm no right-wing extremist," he maintains. "How can you characterize a guy who sides with gays on marriage as a right-wing extremist?"In the 12 years that he's been campaigning against racial quotas in higher education, he's been called much worse. He's been dismissed as a "house negro" by his opponents, who tirelessly chronicle his every move through a network of labor, civil-rights, and legal-advocacy groups. His supporters, meanwhile, feel he's championing the idea of a post-racial society, one in which merit trumps skin color and socioeconomics are a primary issue.Connerly came to the fore of the affirmative-action debate in 1996. As a University of California regent-one of the 26 governing members of the state's university system-Connerly championed a ballot initiative called Proposition 209, the biggest blow to the use of racial quotas in college admissions since, well, ever. Fifty-four percent of California's electorate ultimately voted for Prop 209, which banned the consideration of race in public hiring, contracting, and admissions to the University of California, the largest state-run university system in the world. But Connerly didn't stop there. Two years later, he championed I-200, a similar ballot initiative in Washington State, and then in 2000 he helped Florida's Governor Jeb Bush push an affirmative-action ban through the state legislature.Now, he is taking the effort nationwide. Through his American Civil Rights Institute, a nonprofit that he founded with Thomas L. "Dusty" Rhodes in 1996, Connerly has sponsored eight major anti-affirmative action initiatives. In 2006, his initiative banning affirmative action was passed by a 16-point margin in Michigan, and the last year he embarked on his most ambitious campaign to date: Super Tuesday for Equal Rights, a well-organized, well-funded drive to end sex- and race-based preferences in public universities, hiring, and contracting in five states-Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, and Arizona. If all those initiatives were to pass into law, it would be a precedent-setting assault on the nationwide effort to preserve affirmative action.\n\n\n
|Connerly's crusade to end affirmative action is powered by a complex money web that connects the same handful of conservative heavyweights.|
|What I am working on is getting rid of preferences based on race … The other thing is I think we need to change is how black people are viewed.|
|If all three of Connerly's new ballot initiatives were to pass into law, it would be a precedent-setting assault on the nationwide effort to preserve affirmative action.|
|Affirmative action might help a handful of [middle-class] black kids go to Berkeley with a heavy hand on the scale, rather than SanFrancisco State University on their own.|