- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ward Connerly has spent more than a decade fighting against “diversity” quotas and doesn’t plan to quit anytime soon in his battle to bring colorblindness to government policies.

The 67-year-old former regent of the University of California says, however, that he is getting tired of also having to fight his supposed allies in the Republican Party.

“The conservative movement needs to get out of the shadow of the Republican Party,” Mr. Connerly declared earlier this month at the 34th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington.

Co-founder of the American Civil Rights Coalition, a nonprofit group that has promoted race-neutrality initiatives in several states, Mr. Connerly says he recently has become more frustrated with Republican officials.

“I’ve been haunted by the fact that the Republicans have been increasingly becoming more cowardly and less inclined to support the principle of equal treatment for several years,” he said in a telephone interview with The Washington Times.

Mr. Connerly’s war against discriminatory policies began in California, where he was a leading spokesman for Proposition 209, the pioneering ballot measure that prohibited public institutions from discriminating on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity. The measure overcame fierce opposition to get 54 percent of the vote in 1996, surviving later court challenges and effectively ending “affirmative action” programs in California’s government, including its public universities.

Yet Mr. Connerly says that early victory was achieved with only feeble support from Republicans, including former New York Rep. Jack Kemp — long known as a Republican champion of minority rights — who was the party’s 1996 vice-presidential candidate.

“Jack Kemp skirted all around the issue and finally sort of sheepishly endorsed Proposition 209, but his heart wasn’t in it, and everybody could see it,” Mr. Connerly says.

The trend has grown steadily worse, he says. “George W. Bush would never answer the question about the issue. To this day, we really don’t know where he stands on [Proposition] 209 and measures such as that. …

“I guess all of that, leading up to the Michigan election, where [gubernatorial candidate] Dick DeVos, a very prominent conservative Republican, opposed the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, not on the merits of the issue, but on tactical political reasons, we all believe.”

Despite Republican opposition, the Michigan initiative supported by Mr. Connerly passed in November with 58 percent of the vote.

That experience, he says, “led me to conclude that conservatives are to the Republican Party what blacks are to the Democrat Party — both are taken for granted. Just as the Democrat Party doesn’t have to worry about the black vote, Republicans believe they don’t have to worry about the conservative vote.”

Mr. Connerly’s battle for colorblind policies has won him the admiration of Jennifer Gratz, who sued the University of Michigan when she was denied admittance in 1995. The lawsuit reached the Supreme Court as Gratz v. Bollinger, and in a landmark 2003 decision, the high court ruled the university’s admissions policies were unconstitutional.

In 2004, Miss Gratz joined Mr. Connerly’s coalition as director of state and local initiatives, and was a spokesman for last year’s Michigan initiative.

“Ward embodies the American spirit,” Miss Gratz said at CPAC, where she received this year’s Ronald Reagan Award. “Oftentimes, I hear people refer to Ward Connerly as one of the most principled people in America. I have to say he is the most principled man that I know.”

Miss Gratz said she became acquainted with Mr. Connerly while her Supreme Court case was pending.

“We started e-mailing as we were waiting for the decision to come down, and after the decisions came down, I called and asked for his help in Michigan,” she said in a telephone interview.

The 29-year-old said that racial quotas are a violation of the principles that motivated the civil rights movement.

“I grew up not thinking about skin color, and it was the University of Michigan’s admissions policy that made me think about skin color,” Miss Gratz said. “And I think that a lot of people my age grew up not thinking about skin color, but oftentimes the government forces us to think about it by these policies.”

Such sentiments are now widespread among young Americans, Mr. Connerly said. A frequent speaker at college campuses, he explains that he received two standing ovations at an event sponsored by Junior State of America.

“I asked the question of them, ‘How many of you believe in a colorblind government?’ And I’d say 90 percent of them held up their hands enthusiastically,” Mr. Connerly says. “I think it’s our generation’s duty to get rid of this nonsense for them, since it’s our problem. They’re going to have enough duties, national security and everything else, than to be solving the inherited problem of race.”

As he looks ahead, Mr. Connerly sees conservatives facing tough choices and says they must “look behind the curtain” in examining the 2008 Republican presidential contenders.

“There isn’t one candidate among the big three that we can sign off on 100 percent — every one of them will break our heart in some way,” he says. “So the question is, do you want a John McCain, who is erratic, against you on certain First Amendment issues, but has a good voting record on many other conservative issues? Do you want a Mitt Romney, who says all the right things right now, but who did not in an earlier life? Or do you want a Rudy Giuliani who doesn’t agree with many conservatives on several issues, but who is strong and in agreement with you on many others?”

While he isn’t sure how to answer those questions, Mr. Connerly says conservatives must hold firm.

“My counsel is being true to our principles, and we will win, even if Republicans lose — exactly what happened in Michigan,” he says. “And as a result of that, the Republican Party will take us seriously because they can’t win without us.”

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