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Wardell Anthony Connerly (born June 15, 1939) is a African-Americanmarker political activist, businessman, and former University of California Regent. He is also the founder and the chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, a national non-profit organization in opposition to racial and gender preferences. He is considered to be the man behind Californiamarker's Proposition 209 outlawing race- and gender-based preferences in state hiring and state university admissions, widely known as affirmative action. His twelve-year tenure on the Board of Regents ended on March 1, 2005.

Early life

Wardell Anthony Connerly was born June 15, 1939, in Leesville, Louisianamarker. Connerly has stated he is one-fourth black and half-white, with the rest a mix of Irish, French, and Choctaw American Indian. His father, Roy Connerly, left the household when Ward was 2, and his mother died when Ward was 4. The young Connerly went to live first with an aunt and uncle and then a grandmother. He attended Sacramento State Collegemarker, eventually receiving a bachelor of arts with honors in political science in 1962 . While in college, Connerly was student body president and actively involved with Delta Phi Omega, later becoming an honorary member of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. During his college years, Connerly was active in campaigning against housing discrimination and helped to get a bill passed by the state legislature banning the practice.

After college, he worked for a number of state agencies and Assembly committees, including the Sacramento re-development agency, the state department of housing and urban development, and State Assembly committee on urban affairs. It was during the late 1960s that he became friends with then-legislator Pete Wilson (who would become governor in 1991). At the suggestion of Wilson, Connerly stepped away from his government job in 1973 and started his own consultation and land-use planning company. In 1993 he was appointed to the University of California Board of Regents.

Connerly is married to Ilene Connerly, who is his equal partner in the firm of Connerly & Associates; they have two children. Connerly is a member of the Rotary Clubmarker of Sacramento, Californiamarker and has been inducted as a lifetime member into the California Building Industry Hall of Fame.

Support of political campaigns against racial preferences

After his appointment to the University of California board of regents in 1993, Connerly began to discuss his views on affirmative action. In 1994, after listening to Jerry and Ellan Cook, whose son had been rejected at the University of California, San Franciscomarker Medical School, Connerly became convinced that affirmative action, as practiced in the University of California, was tantamount to racial discrimination. Jerry Cook, a statistician, presented data showing that whites and especially Asians were being systematically denied admission despite having better grades and test scores than other students who were being admitted.

This was never denied by the administrators of the UC system, and led Connerly to propose abolishing these controversial programs, though his proposal would still allow consideration of social or economic factors. The regents passed the proposal in January, 1996 despite protests from activist Jesse Jackson and other supporters of affirmative action. Some believe that the UC system had been discriminating against Asian applicants, in light of the fact that the year after affirmative action was abolished, their numbers showed a dramatic increase.

UC regents developed a new system, including essay requirements that served to reveal the applicant's race and ethnicity. The new measures, titled "comprehensive review" have not yet been challenged to the California Supreme Courtmarker or the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker.

In 1995, he became the chairman of the California Civil Rights Initiative Campaign and helped get the initiative on the Californiamarker ballot as Proposition 209. The Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations, the ACLU, and the California Teachers Association opposed the measure. It passed by 54.6%.

In 1997, Connerly formed the American Civil Rights Institute. ACRI supported a similar ballot measure in Washington, Initiative 200, which would later pass by 58.2%.

ACRI worked to get a measure on the ballot in the 2000 Florida election. The Florida Supreme Courtmarker put restrictions on the petition language, and Governor Jeb Bush later implemented, through a program called "One Florida," key portions of Connerly's proposal, helping to keep it off the ballot by accomplishing some of its key objectives through legislation.

In 2003, Connerly helped place Proposition 54 on the California ballot, which would prohibit the government from classifying any person by race, ethnicity, color, or national origin, with some exceptions such as medical research. Critics were concerned that such a measure would make it difficult to track housing discrimination and racial profiling activities. The measure was also criticized by newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times, which claimed it would hamper legitimate medical and scientific purposes. The measure was not passed by the voters.

Following the 2003 Supreme Court rulings in Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, Connerly was invited to Michigan by Jennifer Gratz to support a measure similar to the 1996 California amendment. The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative appeared on the November 2006 Michigan ballot and passed.

For the 2008 elections, Connerly headed a campaign that he called "Super Tuesday for Equal Rights", which aimed to dismantle affirmative action programs in five different states via ballot measures. In three of the states, Connerly's measures failed to make it onto the ballot, and in Colorado voters rejected Amendment 46 (or the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative) by a very slim margin. Voters in Nebraskamarker were the only ones to approve a new anti-affirmative action measure, called Initiative 424.

Political views

Party identification

Ward Connerly sees himself as a Republican with a libertarian philosophy. In January, 2008, Connerly endorsed Republican Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.

Support for domestic partnership benefits

Despite his close political relationship with former California Governor Pete Wilson, and their agreement on the question of affirmative action, Connerly spearheaded efforts to grant domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian domestic partners in all state universities over Wilson's objections. This initiative was barely passed by the UC regents.

Connerly says his views on gay rights stem from his libertarian viewpoint that governments, including government-run universities, should not discriminate, whether it's favoring some students because of their race, or limiting spousal benefits to others based on their sexual orientation.

Connerly was accused of hypocrisy for supporting domestic partner benefits for gay couples while opposing affirmative action. Connerly's supporters point out that this is not contradictory: he opposes discrimination, whether it is against gays, or any racial, religious, or ethnic group. Connerly dislikes the phrase "reverse discrimination:" to him, racial discrimination is indistinguishable, regardless of which racial or ethnic group is the target.

Connerly's support for domestic partner benefits also earned him the ire of the conservative advocacy groups Family Research Council and Traditional Values Coalition. In reference to Connerly, Robert Knight, Director of Cultural Studies at the Family Research Council, stated, "no true conservative would equate homosexual households with marriages, because we believe that without marriage and family as paramount values, hell will break loose."

Support of same-sex marriage

In response to Proposition 8 on California's November 2008 ballot that would ban same-sex marriage in California, Connerly stated, "For anyone to say that this is an issue for people who are gay and that this isn't about civil rights is sadly mistaken. If you really believe in freedom and limited government, to be intellectually consistent and honest you have to oppose efforts of the majority to impose their will on people."

Support of multi-racial category on government forms

On July 9, 1997, Connerly's advocacy organization, the American Civil Rights Institute, expressed disappointment with the federal government's decision to reject the addition of a multi-racial category on the Census and other government forms that collect racial data. This press release was the beginning of Connerly's alliance with prominent members of what has become known as the multiracial movement. Prior to spearheading the Racial Privacy Initiative (Proposition 54) in California, Connerly forged ties with the publishers of Interracial Voice and The Multiracial Activist, prominent publications for the multiracial movement. Eventually, Connerly enlisted the help of several outspoken members of the multiracial movement to assist with the execution of the Racial Privacy Initiative.

Criticisms

Personal

In 1995, then California State Senator (and current congresswoman) Diane Watson said about Connerly, "He's married to a white woman. He wants to be white. He wants a colorless society. He has no ethnic pride. He doesn't want to be black."

After publication of Connerly's autobiography, some relatives claimed his accounts of an impoverished childhood were exaggerated or simply false. Connerly's aunt confirmed his account and said his detractors "are just lyin' on him. It's jealousy and it's hatred, as low as you can get."

Affirmative action and desegregation

Connerly's opposition to affirmative action has generated both controversy and praise. Connerly believes affirmative action is a form of racism and that people can achieve success without preferential treatment in college enrollment or in employment. In addition he believes that selective affirmative action discriminates against minorities such as Asian Indians and South East Asians, many of whom have experienced discrimination in the past, yet do not receive the benefits of race based admissions. Critics contend Connerly fails to recognize the damaging extent of past racism, that contemporary institutionalized racism is pervasive and powerful, and that affirmative action can overcome the residual effects of past discrimination on people of minorities.

The Detroit-based pro-affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) claimed that Connerly, as CEO of Connerly & Associates, Inc., his Sacramento-based consulting firm, benefited financially from affirmative action programs in contracting, a claim also made by the San Francisco Chronicle. California requires state agencies to award 15 percent of all contracts to minority classified firms. Minority-owned firms that were not classified as such were not eligible for the set-asides. This created an incentive for organizations to register their ownership by race, in order to compete with similarly owned firms. State agencies may have been reluctant to do business with minority-owned firms that were not registered as such, since they would not get full credit for those contracts. Some claim this created a form of state-sanctioned discrimination against non-registered minority-owned firms. While BAMN's charge is accurate, proper context and background are absent.

BAMN also claims that as a spokesman for the American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) and the American Civil Rights Coalition (ACRC), Connerly earned as much as $400,000 which would make Connerly's motives venal. BAMN seeks a repeal of Proposition 209 and a return to affirmative action programs, especially in campus admissions. BAMN opposed Connerly's efforts to put the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative on the 2006 Michigan Ballot, and recently disrupted a Michigan Board of Canvassers meeting by loudly protesting and overturning a table.

Asked if Proposition 54 could derail school integration efforts in California in September 2003: "I don't care whether they are segregated or not… kids need to be learning, and I place more value on these kids getting educated than I do on whether we have some racial balancing or not."

Connerly told NOW on PBS in August, 2008: "I think that in some quarters, many parts of the country, a white male is really disadvantaged… Because we have developed this notion of women and minorities being so disadvantaged and we have to help them, that we have, in many cases, twisted the thing so that it's no longer a case of equal opportunity. It's a case of putting a fist on the scale."

Trent Lott controversy

In December 2002, Strom Thurmond resigned from the U.S. Senate, prompting Republican Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott to say, “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either.”

In a CNN interview the next day, Connerly stated, "Supporting segregation need not be racist. One can believe in segregation and believe in equality of the races…" Asked why he called for Lott to step down as Senate Minority Leader, Connerly said:

Pressed on whether Lott was a racist, Connerly said,

Ku Klux Klan

In 2006, while campaigning to pass Michigan's Proposal 2, which would end affirmative action in the state, Connerly, in a documentary was shown saying, "If the Ku Klux Klan thinks that equality is right, God bless them. Thank them for finally reaching the point where logic and reason are being applied, instead of hate." Connerly issued a written statement clarifying remarks, which some critics claimed showed a favorable tone toward the Ku Klux Klan's support for his Michigan campaign to outlaw affirmative action quotas and set-asides. Connerly's statement read, "Throughout my life I have made absolutely clear my disdain for the KKK. However, like all Americans, I hope that this group will move beyond its ugly history and agree that equality before the law is the ideal. If they or any group accepts equality for all people, I will be the first to welcome them."

References

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