Tracy Sear’s interactions with two Amendment 31 petition circulators occurred on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9. “The first time I was coming out of the Target store in Glendale. There was a young man with clipboard and I overheard him tell someone, ‘This petition would end preferential treatment in the workplace.’ I thought, hmmm, we already have affirmative action and the EEOC. So I asked him, What is this petition for?”
“He quickly read the language of the petition off to me,” Sear continues. “I’m also familiar enough, having a labor law background, and a couple of key phrases caught my attention. I asked him specifically if this would eliminate affirmative action, and he said it would reduce affirmative action, I said, ‘Some of them or all of them?’ And he finally said, ‘OK, all of them.’ I had to really press him to admit it would eliminate affirmative action.
“The next day I was at the King Soopers [in southeast Denver] and there was a woman, blond, probably in her 40s, and she was petitioning. I heard her say to someone, ‘This would promote equality in the workplace.’ I thought, OK, I’ll do my shopping and when I came out I approached her and I said, ‘Is this petition designed to eliminate affirmative action?’
“She said pretty much the same thing the young man had said – first she said it would reduce affirmative action. I had to press her and get her to admit it would eliminate affirmative action.
“Then she said, ‘We don’t need affirmative action anyway.’ “
Both of the petitioners were wearing small round campaign-like buttons that identified them as “Paid Petition Circulator.” Sear, who is 59 and owns a small business in Denver, said she saw no use getting into an argument with the woman.
She reports that she did, however, feel compelled to ask another woman, who was signing the petition, if she realized that her signature was potentially pushing an effort to eliminate programs that assist women and minorities in Colorado.
“The lady looked at me and her jaw dropped,” Sear says. “I was really angry because I felt I was deliberately misled.”
Sear is not the only resident who has reported feeling misled, and flat-out lied to, by Amendment 31 petitioners. Opponents say they have heard a multitude of stories from people who have lodged informal complaints, including being told that the measure is a “civil rights initiative” and that it is needed to install equal rights for women “because the Equal Rights Amendment didn’t pass in Colorado.”
After her encounter, Sear was inspired to investigate further. Until then she wasn’t even aware that Amendment 31 was being proposed. Ultimately she sent a letter of protest to the Secretary of State’s office.
Colorado statute specifies that, “If a circulator is found to … have made false or misleading statements relating to his or her section of the petition, such section of the petition shall be deemed void.”
However — and here is the rub — the wording of the Amendment 31’s approved title claims the measure would eliminate discrimination:
“The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”
There is no reference to affirmative action, though opponents maintain that if passed, those programs in place that are designed to help level the playing field for women and minorities, particularly in education, health care and business, would face elimination. And the wording is exactly the same as a measure that passed in Michigan two years ago — amid many of the same complaints by voters who complained they were being misled by petition circulators making the same claims of “equality” and “banning discrimination” and eliminating “preferential treatment.”
In Colorado four years ago, then-state Sen. Ed Jones, a conservative black Republican from Colorado Springs, introduced an anti-affirmative bill — which is exactly what Ward Connerly is currently trying to do via constitutional amendments in Colorado, as well as in Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
The wording of the Jones bill specified that it would, indeed, eliminate affirmative action, and it died in the Senate. At the time, he came under intense fire from African-American leaders, including in Colorado Springs.
“I can’t understand for the life of me where Ed Jones is coming from on this,” Benjamin Reynolds, then the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church and president of the Pikes Peak Chapter of the NAACP, told the Colorado Springs Gazette.
“I just have no idea how he comes to the conclusion that affirmative action has done its work, and we don’t need it any more,” Reynolds said. “It is the most confusing thing I’ve faced in recent years.”
At the time, Jones countered that, “Forty years of affirmative action has not helped racism. Blacks are made to feel like they are inferior.” Two years ago, Jones was defeated in his re-election bid.
This week Sear, who is white, provided a different take.
“I don’t think much has changed by way of opportunities for people [of color and women]. I have worked in the public sector, and I know that opportunities for education and nutrition and in other areas, a lot of inequalities exist that existed 30 years ago.
“If affirmative action were eliminated, you would see a lot of opportunities taken away from people that [are] deserving. Until we can truly say there is not racism or sexism and truly look at each other as human beings and go beyond race and gender, we can’t say we don’t need affirmative action.
“I don’t think we’re there yet.”
This is the fourth in a multi-part series. Click here to read the first installment, which provides an overview of Ward Connerly’s group and his proposed Amendment 31.
Click here for details about opponents’ plan to introduce another amendment that would freeze programs that benefit women and minorities in place.
And click here for the story of another woman who reports being misled — and a warning to read before you sign petitions that was issued by a state lawmaker.
Up next: Just who is Ward Connerly and why does he want to change Colorado’s Constitution?
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at The Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org