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Colorado Voters Will Choose Yes or No on Equality

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Who would have thought in 2008, some 50 years after the country groaned under the strain of dismantling laws and practices that relegated blacks to second class citizenship, the government still would be discriminating against people on the basis of race?

Alive and well is the practice of assessing black job applicants, contract bidders, and prospective college students under standards lower than those used to assess others, all in the name of diversity. Euphemistically known as affirmative action, this practice is odious enough when done in the private sector. But when the government does it, it's time to act.

Ward Connerly, a former University of California Regent, embarked on a mission in 1995 to put government out of the skin color business through state ballot initiatives. Californians voted against preferences in government hiring, contracting, and admissions by 54 percent in 1996. So did 58.3 percent of voters in Washington state in 1998 and 58 percent of Michigan voters in 2006.

The campaigns continue. In March, the Colorado Secretary of State determined that the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative (CoCRI) had received enough signatures to be placed on the ballot. On November 4, 2008, the people of Colorado will vote on whether their state government may continue preferring members of one group over another based on race and sex.

Amendment 46 would amend the state constitution to read: "The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any group or individual on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public contracting, or public education."

Various groups tried to stop the campaign. One group claimed CoCRI signature gatherers duped people into signing a petition to keep preferences. Last month, an administrative law judge threw out those claims.

CoCRI director Jessica Peck Corry said, "Given the lack of evidence presented by our opposition, the court did the right thing by dismissing all of the complaints. We will continue to fight with vigor any and all false allegations against Amendment 46."

Although the terms "affirmative action" and "race preferences" are used interchangeably, they are not synonymous. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued an executive order mandating federal contractors to take affirmative action to ensure that applicants were treated equally "without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." They were encouraged to cast a wider recruitment net to include in the hiring pool qualified minorities who historically had been excluded. That, and only that, is affirmative action.

The concept as we know it today evolved from a policy set forth by President Richard M. Nixon. In 1971, he authorized the Department of Labor to set specific goals and timetables to correct the "underutilization" of blacks by federal contractors. A quota by any other name…

Today, Republicans are demonized for opposing race preferences, but it was a Republican who got the ball rolling in the first place. Politics aside, Americans can disagree about affirmative action and whether it's still needed in 2008, but there should be no disagreement about government practices and policies that prefer one person over another based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

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