- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Ward Connerly's fight against racial preferences hasn't necessarily endeared him to his fellow Republicans.

When he took his crusade to Florida, he found himself opposed by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who said he feared the issue would be "divisive."

"The Republican Party of Florida didn't want me there," Mr. Connerly recently told a meeting of the Independent Women's Forum (IWF) in Washington. "And why? Because 'compassionate conservatism,' to some means, 'don't screw up the election.' "

The University of California regent remains committed to the effort that helped pass California's Proposition 209 the 1996 initiative that eliminated preferences in state employment, contracting and education with 54 percent of the vote, despite powerful opposition.

Mr. Connerly has written a new book, "Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences," which chronicles the personal journey that led him to become one of America's best-known opponents of what he calls the "reign of terror presided over by affirmative action officers."

Mr. Connerly's emergence as a nationally known conservative spokesman is, in some ways, a testimony to the colorblind regime he advocates. He describes himself as "one who questions the validity of the concept of race."

His own ethnic background, as he chronicles in his new book, is a mixture of black, European and American Indian ancestry. Born in Louisiana in 1939, he moved with his family to California in the 1940s, then went to work at age 15 to help keep his family off welfare.

He worked his way through junior college and Sacramento State, then went to work in Sacramento's redevelopment agency, where he was tapped by Pete Wilson then a California assemblyman, later a two-term governor to be chief consultant for the state assembly's housing and urban affairs committee.

In the 1970s, Mr. Connerly started his own consulting firm, Connerly & Associates. When Mr. Wilson was elected governor in 1990, he named Mr. Connerly to the Board of Regents in 1993.

By then, Mr. Connerly's resentment of racial preferences was already a matter of record. "I'm opposed to it," he told the Sacramento Bee in 1991, referring to a California law requiring that 15 percent of government contracts go to minority-owned businesses.

"For me, it's the ultimate insult," he told the Sacramento paper. "I don't need any brownie points from anybody. I don't want any from anybody. And to my knowledge [my firm has] never taken advantage of it."

Soon after joining the Board of Regents, Mr. Connerly began fighting university administrators over their policies that he said hid racial quotas in admissions and hiring behind euphemistic language about "diversity."

That dispute led to Proposition 209, also known as the California Civil Rights Initiative. Its success in California helped spark a similar measure in Washington state, known as I-200, which passed with 58 percent of the vote in 1998.

While a majority of voters supports an end to racial preferences, Mr. Connerly notes "the corporate establishment" contributed huge sums to the opponents of Proposition 209 and its counterpart in Washington state.

"They're afraid of being sued," Mr. Connerly says of corporations such as Boeing and Microsoft that have supported defenders of racial preferences. "By supporting affirmative action, they inoculate themselves [against racial discrimination suits] on the cheap."

As for the Republicans' worries about the political consequences of his positions, Mr. Connerly says he has been "frequently accused of putting the party at risk." But that "just doesn't stand the light of day," he says. Voters strongly support ending discrimination disguised as "diversity," he says.

To Mr. Connerly, his crusade against preferences is a matter of principle.

"I became a Republican in 1969," he told the IWF, adding pointedly: "I didn't need golf partners."

"I will not countenance discrimination against anyone," he told the IWF. "Discrimination is an individual act. Individuals are affected by discrimination, not groups."

In California, he points out, a third of marriages are interracial or interethnic and 14 percent of children born in the state are of mixed ancestry including his children and grandchildren. Mr. Connerly's wife, whom he married in 1962, is white.

Referring to the U.S. Census questions about race, Mr. Connerly told the IWF, "I'm starting my own protest. I'm refusing to check the damn box."

Legal challenges have temporarily stalled his efforts to get an anti-preference measure on the ballot in Florida, but Mr. Connerly notes that 24 states have the initiative process. He hopes to fight the issue on a state-by-state basis, even though the process can be expensive.

"In every state, it costs probably $1.5 million to get the signatures [to qualify an initiative for the ballot]," he says.

Congress has refused to act on abolishing racial preferences, but Mr. Connerly believes the issue could help the Republicans in the upcoming presidential campaign if Texas Gov. George W. Bush will use the issue against Vice President Al Gore.

"A lot depends on how Bush responds to Gore… . I think [Mr. Bush] could box [the vice president] into a position where Gore would have to defend preferences," Mr. Connerly says. And defending preferences is "a losing position," he says.

With or without Republican support, Mr. Connerly plans to continue fighting preferences.

"The only friends I have are the people," he says. "On Election Day, they show up and say they don't want preferences."

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