The drama continued on Monday, when Ward
Connerly, the leader of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative,
announced the beginning of the campaign to get a proposal on a
statewide ballot in November to end affirmative action in higher
education. And what a drama this has been.
In Act One, years of debate on our campus led to a victory at
the U.S. Supreme Court last summer. The united front for
integration was enormous. Labor groups, civil rights groups and the
deans of the top law schools stood on our side. Even traditionally
conservative groups like the corporate community filed amicus
briefs in support of the University. We all thought that the
court’s word and the large and diverse coalition in defense
of integration would have given the small, dogmatic opposition the
final goodbye. But those kids just couldn’t stay put.
In Act Two, Connerly, the University of California regent who
ended affirmative action in state schools there (which would mark
the beginning of the UC system’s decline not only in minority
enrollment, but in prestige in the professional circles of higher
education), ventured to our state at the beginning of the academic
year to put a proposal on the ballot to end affirmative action.
While conservative students embraced the MCRI, Connerly’s
band emerged on the scene relatively friendless. The state
Republican Party and the corporate community wanted nothing to do
with this. Why? While the Republicans supported the MCRI
ideologically, they knew that affirmative action is such a divisive
issue that the party’s involvement could hand Michigan to the
Democrats this November.
And right here at intermission time is when the plot thickens.
The Ann Arbor News reported that “Connerly is being sued in
California for keeping secret the names of people who donated to
his nonprofit group called the American Civil Rights
Coalition.” What does he have to hide? If corporations and
Republican leadership aren’t helping him, are there groups
more extreme willing to foot the bill?
So not only is the GOP wary of the MCRI because of the political
repercussions it could face in the election, but the party has
issues with being aligned with a potentially crooked and extremist
But some state GOP members have broken ranks with the
conciliatory leadership. State Rep. Jack Hoogendyk (R-Kalamazoo),
who berates the University every year on the House floor for
offering a class on homosexuality, threw in his support. Rep. Joe
Hune (R-Fowlerville), who represents the state’s rights and
anti-government stronghold of Howell, is standing with Connerly.
The Republican Rep. John Paster of Livonia, the whitest city in
America among those over 100,000, is also on the bandwagon.
So we are left here at the beginning of Act Three, when Connerly
has only until July 6 to get 317,757 signatures on his petition.
While Connerly and his clan have twisted the meaning of the 14th
Amendment to make themselves sound like egalitarians, let us paint
a picture of how the duration of this drama will unfold.
Michigan is a politically bipolar state. We have the labor left
and the black, urban poor in Detroit and the progressive haven of
Ann Arbor. Then there is the militia hotbed of northern Michigan
and the social conservatism of Grand Rapids. Will the MCRI be
petitioning on Cass Avenue or will it be going door to door in the
affluent, mostly white Oakland County? Will Connerly’s
petition reflect the opinion of Howell and Livonia or of Highland
Park and Benton Harbor?
Without assistance from the state GOP and financial support from
corporate donors, the MCRI will have to pander to the worst aspects
of white conservatism and elitism if it wants to get its proposal
on the ballot. Connerly could very well have his way; he could get
enough signatures and win the question on the ballot, thus claiming
a democratic victory. But there will be no question where his
support will be coming from. Connerly insists that his goals
champion equality, but if he wins we will have a white,
conservative electorate telling the minority, urban poor of
Michigan what is in their best interests.
While some anti-affirmative action proponents may honestly not
believe that their goals are this racist, the truth is that
politically and practically speaking, this is what the MCRI will
have to do in order to achieve victory, thus proving how dangerous
Connerly is to the ideal of racial equality.
Paul can be reached at