31 Versus 61: Flip Sides Of The Discrimination Coin

Amendment 31, meet Amendment 61 – otherwise known as Colorado civil rights activists’ answer to California millionaire Ward Connerly’s efforts to outlaw affirmative action programs in Colorado.It appears to be a twist on the old classic: if you think you might not beat them, join them.

Last year opponents of Connerly’s proposed anti-affirmative action amendment in Colorado battled vociferously to keep the measure off the 2008 ballot (among other arguments, opposition attorney Ed Ramey claimed the ballot wording violated the state’s single subject rule). Score so far: Connerly 1, Colorado Civil Rights Activists 0.

This year, many of these same activists who warn that eliminating programs that benefit minorities and women in education, health care and business plan to try to throw a wrench into Connerly’s well-funded machine with an amendment of their own.

Amendment 61, which is being heard by Colorado’s title board this week, would keep various programs currently in place in Colorado that enhance equal opportunities for minorities and women – potentially canceling out Amendment 31, should it pass.

The titles – as they currently are written – further prove an exercise in brain-straining semantics:

Amendment 31: Prohibition on Discrimination and Preferential Treatment by Colorado Government
Amendment 61: Federal Standards for Discrimination/Preferential Treatment by Colorado Governments

Mary Phillips, a retired Denver attorney who is listed as one of three sponsors of Amendment 61, explains the idea behind it this way:

“Our proposition (61) will outlaw preferences and discrimination and it will allow equal opportunities like tutoring and recruitment [for minorities and women].

“We are hoping to preserve those programs in Colorado that are alright under the Constitution for equal opportunity programs and recruitment.”

Quotas, along with many affirmative action programs, have already been eliminated and rendered unconstitutional by courts in Colorado and elsewhere. Amendment 61 would essentially preserve those programs that are left — like recruitment efforts to increase minority enrollment at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and training and summer job programs that are designed to promote diversity in the workforce.

If Connerly’s anti-affirmative-action Amendment 31 makes the ballot and is approved by voters, those programs, which benefit minorities and women, would be eliminated. (Click here to read more about Connerly’s Sacramento-based group, and his efforts in Colorado).

And further clouding the debate is the lack of a hard-and-fast list of targeted programs. Amendment 31 proponents have never produced a list detailing exactly what in Colorado would be eliminated, should their amendment pass. In a recent interview, Amendment 31 sponsor Valery Pech Orr generically described the programs on the chopping block as anything having to do with “public education, public employment and public contracting.”

Amendment 61 proponents are likewise coy.

“We can talk generally about programs that are at risk, but we are not going to flag specific programs,” said Roberto Corrada, a law professor at Denver University who is promoting Amendment 61.

Why, Corrada wonders, should his group help Connerly’s group by identifying specific programs that currently benefit minorities and women, and potentially lay them open to be targeted for elimination?

“What’s interesting about Ward Connerly is, usually when you want to change the status quo, it’s up to you to show what’s broken,” Corrada said. “And Connerly doesn’t know, so suddenly the burden is on the status quo.

“Why shouldn’t he be the one to show what’s wrong in Colorado?”

Corrada freely notes that the tactic is a test run for other states that might next be targeted by Connerly and his group, called the American Civil Rights Institute.

Since 1996, voters in three states have approved similar Connerly-sponsored amendments, including in California, Washington state and Michigan. He has targeted five more, including Colorado, with anti-affirmative-action initiatives this year.

To be sure, both groups have plenty of work ahead in Colorado. Amendment 31 has already been approved for the ballot, and petitioners are currently collecting signatures.

Proponents of 61 are distinctly trailing. Should their measure be approved for the Colorado ballot, they, like Amendment 31 proponents, would need to collect 76,047 valid signatures from registered voters in Colorado to make the ballot.

It is unclear what would happen if both measures ultimately are passed by voters.

This is the second in a multi-part series on Amendment 31, affirmative action in Colorado and Ward Connerly’s efforts. Additional segments will appear all this week. Click here to read the first installment, which provides an overview of Connerly’s group and his proposed Amendment 31.

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at The Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at cdegette@coloradoconfidential.com