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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Anti-affirmative action activists are hoping to see a new measure added to November ballots in five states. The voter initiative is called "Super Tuesday For Equality." It's a brainchild of former University of California Regent Ward Connerly. Connerly's led the charge in California and other states to ban the consideration of race and gender in educational admissions and hiring. He is now president of the American Civil Rights Institute in Sacramento, California. That's a non-profit group dedicated in part to ending affirmative action nationwide. And he's with us now.

Mr. Connerly, welcome.

Mr. WARD CONNERLY (Founder and President, American Civil Rights Institute): I'm glad to be with you.

CHIDEYA: So your group has targeted five states: Colorado, Missouri, Arizona, Oklahoma and Nebraska. Where do your efforts stand?

Mr. CONNERLY: We are progressing quite well. We have turned in the signatures in Oklahoma, we are correcting signatures in all of the other states and I fully expect that we will be on the ballots in all five of those states.

CHIDEYA: Are you pleased with what's shaken out afterwards? There's been a criticism particularly of educational issues in California and Michigan and how a country that is as diverse as the United States will fare in the future after there have been a diminishment in enrollment of African-Americans and some other groups in some of the public educational institutions. Give us a sense of how you feel your work is affecting America.

Mr. CONNERLY: Well, it's important for one to recognize that there's not been any diminution in the access of individuals to getting an education. It is just factually incorrect that the number of, quote, "minorities," close quote, who are able to go to college has been reduced as a result of our initiative. Yes, there has been some redistribution, if you will, of students to those institutions where they are academically competitive. The important thing is to recognize that there is an academic gap, it is a very serious one and that gap needs to be closed because whether by initiative or whether by court decision, anyone who's ever followed this issue knows that race preferences is moving on borrowed time.

CHIDEYA: Last October, you were deposed by a pro-affirmative action group known as BAMN. They are in court fighting the results of proposition to otherwise known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. We're going to talk with the national coach here of BAMN, Shanta Driver in a few minutes. But here's what she told us earlier about what came from the seven-hour deposition with you.

Ms. SHANTA DRIVER (National Co-Chair, By Any Means Necessary): First, that it was his intention and proposing proposition to drive black and Latino students out of the University of Michigan and also of campuses all across this country and to that he knew the result of the passage of proposition to would be to re-segregate higher education and that that is his aim and intent.

CHIDEYA: Is that an accurate parsing of your views?

Mr. CONNERLY: Ms. Driver and BAMN have been known before to lie and misrepresent and this is on the true tradition of by any means necessary and I guess that's why they're called By Any Means Necessary and lying is certainly one of the means that they're using. I do not believe that people should be treated differently on the basis of race. If you set a regulation or you set a law or you put into law the policies that you believe in, one should not go out and use a deposition to distort what you say and we're going to be doing everything that we can to shed the light of truth on the despicable tactics of them as evidenced by this misrepresentation.

CHIDEYA: There had been several articles, one of them most recently in Ms. Magazine that ask whether or not you have an actual financial stake or financial interest in the work that you do, citing that the construction industry, among others, has been one of the supporters of your work. How would you respond to the idea that although your group is a non-profit, you are someone who is employed in this work and that you are benefitting to a certain degree from the, financially, from your efforts?

Mr. CONNERLY: It is not unusual for me to have made prior to 1993 well over $2 million per year to suggest that somehow, I'm financially profiting for this is just wrong.

CHIDEYA: Now speaking of opposition and it's a political year and both Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side or from supporters of affirmative action have you…

Mr. CONNERLY: Why you just saying affirmative action when we're talking about race preferences? Are you somehow trying to mischaracterize this debate?

CHIDEYA: I think the B-language has been quite in debate and it's absolutely accurate that you can bring up your point of view in how language is used. But affirmative action is a term widely used by politicians and widely used by people who are talking about the issues that you bring up. So while I respect your ability to bring up your view on the language, I think that we're talking about the same issue. Is that incorrect to you?

Mr. CONNERLY: Well, no we're not because affirmative action comes in many forms, some of which I support. If you're talking about using affirmative action to insure that there is no discrimination, which is how affirmative action started, I support that kind of affirmative action. So I think it's very important that you be more precise in how you describe this issue.

CHIDEYA: Well, let's talk then very specifically. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton supporting the use of race and gender in affirmative action programs. Are there any presidential candidates who have supported your point of view?

Mr. CONNERLY: My understanding is that Mayor Giuliani supported my point of view. I believe that Senator McCain supports my point of view, well, I don't know, I haven't asked any of the others and I really am not terribly preoccupied with what their position might be.

CHIDEYA: Well Mr. Connerly, thanks for your time.

Mr. CONNERLY: Right. Welcome.

CHIDEYA: Ward Connerly is the president of the American Civil Rights Institute in Sacramento, California. He joined us from his office.

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