Prop 107 to outlaw affirmative action
PHOENIX – Voters will decide at the ballot if they want to outlaw affirmative action programs and any special programs or preferences for women and minorities.
Proposition 107 would prohibit preferential treatment or discrimination by government on the basis of race, sex or ethnic origin. It would specifically apply to employment, education and contracting.
But what the effects would be are less than clear.
Proponents say that the language simply reflects the goals of a color-blind society. In fact, Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, who sponsored the measure to amend the Arizona Constitution has invoked the verbiage a 1963 “I Have a Dream'' speech of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. who said he looked forward to the day when “little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.''
That, in turn, has brought derision from others who say that minorities still have not yet achieved full equality in society and certain programs remain necessary.
The state itself has no quotas. In fact, federal courts have outlawed numerical quotas that spell out that a certain percentage of school admissions, jobs or contracts must go to minorities or women.
But judges have upheld affirmative-action programs designed to help groups that have been underrepresented. And the courts also have allowed certain bid preferences if the government can show minorities or women are not getting a share of contracts.
That exception is at the heart of a provision of Tucson City Code which provides eligible firms of minorities which have not received their fair share of contracts an “adjustment'' allowing them to bid up to 7 percent more on product or service contracts and still win. And there are procedures to give bonus points to certain firms bidding on professional services.
Less clear are some other types of programs.
For example, both Arizona State University and the University of Arizona have a Women in Science and Engineering program which helps encourage female students to go into those fields where they have been under-represented. And it could undermine a program run by the city of Phoenix to help unwed mothers get jobs and get off welfare.
And those who have been involved with admissions to the law schools at the state's two public universities say they consider more than just someone's test scores or grades in determining admission. That includes background and creating a well-rounded class, both factors that could involve race, ethnicity or gender.
Montenegro said the affirmative action programs which started out to outlaw discrimination now actually promotes it. He said the measure, if approved, would truly create a level playing field, at least in government programs.
Others, however, defend the system of preference points.
In a statement of opposition to Proposition 107, Lea Peterson, president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber, said studies have shown that firms owned by women and minorities “may lack key procurement business relationships and consequently be left off of preferred vendor lists without such a system.''
But five Southern Arizona Republican legislators, in their own statement of support, said the aim of the measure is to ensure equal treatment.
“All these government preferences are saying is women, minorities, people of color aren't good enough to create a natural, genuine diversity on the merits,'' said Sens. Frank Antenori and Al Melvin and Reps. David Gowan, Ted Vogt and David Stevens. “No person should be entitled to ‘special' programs solely based on their race or sex.”
The measure contains an exception for any action necessary to maintain eligibility for any federal program if doing otherwise would result in a loss of federal dollars to the state. It also would not apply to any court orders or consent decrees in force if and when the measure is enacted.
ARIZONA'S POPULATION AT A GLANCE
African American 223,500
American Indian/Alaska Native 285,183
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 10,172
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2006-2008 American Community