During the next two months, the campaign to end race-conscious
policies in public education and employment will make critical
decisions for its petition drive. But with a deadline fast
approaching, the group is facing financial and organizational
A response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s affirmation of the
University’s race-conscious admissions policies last summer,
the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative needs 317,757 signatures by
July 6 to get a constitutional amendment banning “race and
gender preferences” on the November ballot.
But MCRI is now in a state of uncertainty. While it has several
contingency plans in place, MCRI faces a rift in its campaign
structure, questions concerning its financial situation and
Several proponents of the initiative have recently questioned
its direction. Former treasurer Leonard Schwartz posted an update
on the state Libertarian Party website last week stating that the
petition drive had been “suspended.”
“MCRI decided that continuing the petition drive now would
be a waste of time and money,” he wrote.
Schwartz also wrote that the initiative could start up next year
to get on the 2006 ballot, an option echoed by some other MCRI
officials. But Schwartz’s positing highlights a disagreement
in the campaign. Others in the organization disagree with delaying
MCRI spokesman Chetly Zarko said the initiative should focus on
the 2004 ballot, whether or not a state appeals court rules in
favor of the initiative’s current petition form.
A state judge ruled that MCRI’s petition forms were
invalid because they did not state the text of the constitution
article the initiative would amend.
In many ways, the future of the campaign hinges upon the
appellate ruling. Until the decision is made, the campaign will not
make any definitive choices on future strategies. If MCRI loses the
appeal and must redo the petition, all the signatures collected
since January would be invalid.
Ample finances will also be critical to the initiative’s
success, as MCRI officials say it will soon pay circulators to
collect signatures. Opponents of the initiative have wondered
whether Ward Connerly, the University of California regent and
chief promoter of the initiative, will provide the funds necessary
to obtain the required amount of signatures.
Connerly’s most recent ballot initiative in California,
Proposition 54, which sought to prohibit the government from
collecting racial information, was reportedly underfunded and and
failed to pass last year. Connerly has also fallen ill and recently
Connerly has not come through with money to fund a paid effort,
former campaign manager Tim O’Brien said. But officials at
MCRI and Connerly’s American Civil Rights Coalition say they
expect him to provide funding.
“I don’t think there’s evidence that he
won’t come through. He’s been able to deliver in other
states. I think that speaks to his credibility,” said state
Rep. Leon Drolet (R-Clinton Twp.), who co-chairs MCRI’s
O’Brien, also a member of the Libertarian Party, left his
position last week because of differences in opinion over strategy.
Zarko said both O’Brien and Schwartz believed the initiative
should make more definite contigency plans for if it fails this
year, an option that neither Connerly nor Executive Director
Jennifer Gratz has supported.
“It was their self-doubt that (the initiative) should
continue,” Zarko said. “They got cold feet because Ward
was out of contact for a few weeks,” he added, referring to
Connerly’s illness. Connerly has reportedly made only two
public appearances in the state since January when the campaign
Further disunity within the group is highlighted by the fact
that O’Brien and Schwartz’s relationship with MCRI is
disputed. Zarko and Justin Jones, the director of policy and
planning for ACRC, said both men are no longer associated with the
campaign. But O’Brien and Schwartz said they still have close
connections with MCRI. Schwartz still claims to be MCRI’s
treasurer, while Zarko said funding is now under the steering
committee’s control and O’Brien has resigned.
The uneasy relationship also involves a bank account containing
money raised to fund a volunteer effort. O’Brien and Schwartz
say only they can access the account. Since he was hired to
coordinate the volunteer effort and was never in charge of the paid
circulator part, O’Brien said that he has financial control
over these funds. He said he would only come through with the
volunteers if Connerly comes through to fund the paid
“Eagerly and with complete abandon we will jump and work
our little hearts out” if Connerly comes through and the
court rules in MCRI’s favor, O’Brien said. He added
that he believes volunteers can collect up to 100,000 signatures
for the campaign.
But Zarko said it is a “reckless contention” that
the two men have control of these funds, and said he may take legal
action to get access to the bank account. That O’Brien and
Schwartz are both members of Libertarian Party is a component of
the debate, he added.
Despite their disagreements, Zarko said he still has some
communication with O’Brien and the former campaign manager
has cooperated in providing MCRI with petitions and signatures that
have already been collected.
MCRI first must contend with legal threats to its petition
drive. Currently, the state Court of Appeals is reviewing a circuit
court ruling that struck down MCRI’s petition form. MCRI
officials said they could either redo their petition form and start
over if they lose, or continue to collect signatures if they
IFf MCRI loses the lawsuit, it would have to mail out new
petitions to people who have already signed to receive those
signatures again, Zarko said.
Whether MCRI can start collecting signatures this year for 2006
if it does not obtain enough by July is unclear. While MCRI
officials say they could restart the petition drive either this
year or next year, Michigan Secretary of State spokesman Ken
Silfven said any signatures that are more than 180 days old are
invalid, so MCRI would have to start in 2006 if it fails this
Even with reports that MCRI is failing, the opposition groups
Citizens for a United Michigan and BAMN will continue to fight
against the campaign.
“We are still very concerned that Ward Connerly will come
up with the reserves to buy signatures on this,” United
Michigan spokesman David Waymire said. “We are remaining very
vigilant.” But he doubted MCRI had additional funding because
otherwise it woulds not be waiting for the court’s
The group is working with businesses to raise funds and support
in opposition to MCRI. Businesses, Waymire said, realize that
diversity is crucial to compete in local, national and
international markets. They rely on the universities to groom a
qualified and diverse workforce.
United Michigan will also conduct focus groups and survey
research to mold a campaign in case the issue reaches the
BAMN struck a more triumphant note, asserting that the
“attack on civil rights” is essentially over and
Connerly will most likely withdraw from the political landscape.
But the group has a “well-oiled” Decline to Sign
campaign in case MCRI springs back.