- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Civil rights provocateur Ward Connerly will announce today his effort to secure a ballot measure that would prevent California public agencies, including colleges and universities, from collecting data on race and ethnicity.

"Race has created an artificial division, not because of economic circumstances or a true difference in people's lives, but because of an 'us and them' mind-set, which flows from racial classifications," Mr. Connerly said in an interview yesterday, 24 hours before he was scheduled to announce his effort at press conferences in Sacramento and Los Angeles.

"By definition, we are putting people in separate places, when they really aren't different at all."

Mr. Connerly's group, the American Civil Rights Coalition, will begin this month to solicit 700,000 signatures from registered voters in order to put the new measure on a March 2002 ballot.

The coalition noted the heavy focus on race in the 2000 census, which many saw as intrusive, as proof that U.S. governments have become too race-conscious.

"Polls show that four of five Americans support ending these silly little boxes," said Kevin Nguyen, a spokesman for the group. "On top of that, there is increased anxiety from Census 2000 and people filling out those questions pertaining to race, which took up nearly half the form."

The measure has exemptions that let several agencies keep racial data, including law enforcement and medical-research agencies.

Mr. Connerly's new measure is his second effort to remedy what he sees as a culture obsessed with race and damaging "racial bean counting." Proposition 209 went through the same process to win voter approval in 1996.

"This is 209 a step further, this is the end zone," said Mr. Connerly, a University of California regent. "Despite 209, every government agency still collects these racial data and puts out studies with statistical inferences, trying to use race as baggage."

His foes are by now traditional: Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People weighed in immediately with pointed criticism of Mr. Connerly's plan yesterday.

"This is a wolf in sheep's clothing promoted by the same people who have long opposed affirmative action," said Dan Tokaji, staff attorney at the ACLU's Southern California office. "They hijacked the rhetoric of civil rights and now they are trying to use privacy in the same way."

Frank Berry, Western region director for the NAACP, said Mr. Connerly's actions have always been at odds with the NAACP.

"Whatever Ward Connerly tried to push is from the opposite direction of where we're trying to go with the civil rights community," Mr. Berry said.

"This sounds like an effort on his part to put requirements in place that would prohibit the ability to verify how much damage has been done by 209," he said. "This is something I would be very leery of and most likely will generate a vigorous fight from the civil rights community."

University officials said such a rule would prevent them from even measuring their efforts to increase diversity on their campuses.

Such scoldings are par for Mr. Connerly, who is relying on California's increasingly complex racial mosaic to push this newest initiative through.

The state's "minorities" are a majority; that is, no single ethnic group composes more than 50 percent of the state's 34 million people. Mixed marriages and their offspring are creating a truly multiethnic generation, which Mr. Connerly says is one of the catalysts for his newest political effort.

"We still separate the races by propping up the race industry that lives off these classifications," Mr. Connerly said. "So I decided that there is only one real way to move this country forward and that's to get more people to stop focusing on race."

He noted, with amusement, that the San Diego City Council last week agreed to ban the word "minority" from the city's documents.

The panel instead has opted to use other terms, while keeping in place any programs that benefit such groups.

Mr. Connerly applauded the concept "I always thought the term 'minority' did not suggest anything numerical, but instead suggested someone who is disadvantaged" but thought keeping any sort of special program was a bad idea.

"We arrived at the same place, which is a very interesting phenomenon," he noted.

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