- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2008

CHICAGO | Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain on Sunday endorsed a proposal to ban affirmative action programs in his home state, a policy that Democratic rival Barack Obama called disappointing and divisive.

In the past, Mr. McCain has criticized such ballot initiatives.

In an interview that aired Sunday, Mr. McCain was asked whether he supported an effort to get a referendum on the ballot in Arizona that would do away with race and sex-based preferences.

“Yes, I do,” he said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” The Republican senator quickly added that he had not seen the details of the proposal. “But I’ve always opposed quotas.”

His words came as Mr. McCain seeks to tailor his policies and rhetoric to independent-minded voters who will determine the outcome of theNovember election. Both Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama have accused the other of “flip-flopping,” a charge that carries weight with voters seeking consistency and authenticity in their political leaders.

Speaking to a conference of minority journalists on Sunday, Mr. Obama said he was “disappointed” by Mr. McCain’s position.

“I think in the past he had been opposed to these kinds of … referenda or initiatives as divisive. And I think he’s right,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama also said he has little interest in an official government apology for slavery or reparations for descendants of slaves. The government’s focus, he said, should be on providing jobs, education and health for people still struggling today.

“I’m much more interested in talking about, how do we get every child to learn? How do we get every person health care? How do we make sure that everybody has a job?” he said.

The proposed referendum in Arizona involves a constitutional amendment to bar preferential treatment by public entities on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin. Supporters say the measure levels the playing field, giving everyone an equal chance at every job.

A decade ago, Mr. McCain condemned initiatives aimed at dismantling affirmative action, though he stopped short of directly criticizing a resolution pending in the state legislature at the time.

“Rather than engage in divisive ballot initiatives, we must have a dialogue and cooperation and mutual efforts together to provide for every child in America to fulfill their expectations,” Mr. McCain told Hispanic business leaders gathered in Washington in 1998.

A spokesman said Sunday that Mr. McCain has always opposed hiring quotes based on race.

“He believes that regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, the law should be equally applied,” spokesman Tucker Bounds said.

Mr. Obama said Sunday that affirmative action is not a long-term solution to discrimination and that it must not ignore the problems of poor whites. But affirmative action does address “some of the hardships and difficulties that communities of color may have experienced.”

He also argued ballot initiatives like the one in Arizona rarely help people work together.

“You know, the truth of the matter is, these are not designed to solve a big problem, but they’re all too often designed to drive a wedge between people,” Mr. Obama said.

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