Know Your Right Wingers
SOURCE: August Pollak
If you’ve heard Ward Connerly speak, chances are you’ve heard the story of a plucky kid growing up poor and pulling himself out of poverty. Back in 1957, he was an ambitious college student, one of only 50 African-American students on a campus of 2000. He was the first to pledge the all-white Delta Phi Omega fraternity at Sacramento State. He was elected student body president. He was the outspoken leader of the student committee against housing discrimination.
Fast forward to 2005: Ward Connerly is a millionaire businessman and the leading African-American opponent of affirmative action (or maybe tied with Justice Clarence Thomas). He is well-funded, especially by those monsters of conservative wealth and power, the Bradley, Scaife and Olin foundations. The Bradley Foundation, which has spawned several storefront organizations dedicated to eradicating racial justice programs, awarded Connerly a $250,000 prize this year, separate from the $1 million in compensation he received as compensation in 2004. Thomas L. Rhodes, the chair of the board of the Bradley Foundation, makes no bones about Connerly’s role in these organizations—he told Connerly after their victory on Proposition 209 outlawing affirmative action in California, “Ward…[racial] preferences need to be challenged nationally, and I believe you are the man to do it.”
Connerly’s tireless efforts have helped the right wing make great strides in the battle against what many African-American leaders from Colin Powell to Al Sharpton say is still necessary to level the playing field for people of color in education and employment. NAACP Chairman Julian Bond has said that Connerly has made “a lucrative multi-million dollar career fighting fairness.”
Since the words “affirmative action” were first uttered by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 with regard to civil rights, the term has endured a long history of debate and controversy. After years of efforts by Connerly and his allies to fight affirmative action in the courts and legislatures, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 2003 landmark decision, ruled that affirmative action in university admissions is not only constitutional, but encourages ‘cross-racial understanding,’ serves to break down racial stereotypes, and strengthens our economy and society. Many business leaders, military leaders, and others had urged the court to uphold affirmative action. But Connerly remains adamant in his bitter opposition.
Connerly’s transition from campus civil rights supporter to the man he is today began soon after he graduated from college. Connerly’s views veered sharply to the right, and as other young African-Americans raised their fists in black solidarity, Connerly was wooed by the rhetoric of Barry Goldwater. He became outspoken on the need for blacks to assimilate, or, as he later put it, “Reveling in blackness—black is beautiful, black power, black consciousness—just creates an invisible wall of difference that sets us apart.”
Not long after his Goldwater conversion, Connerly was launched into the lucrative real estate business with help from Pete Wilson, the future governor of California. In 1968, when Wilson was just a young legislator from San Diego and the newly appointed chairman of the Assembly Committee on Urban Affairs and Housing, he made Connerly his chief consultant. It was in this role that Connerly is accused of having gotten his leg up out of his own poverty by pushing others deeper into theirs. As one respected African-American journalist has said of Connerly, “If Ward Connerly attacks a program or institution, you can be assured that it is serving a valuable purpose for African Americans.” In this case, the institution Connerly attacked was public housing – Connerly worked with Wilson on a plan to give low-income tenants ownership of their blighted public housing developments, and in so doing, turned them into their own slumlords. The plan allowed the city to increase its tax base and renounce its obligation to provide low-income housing, and the tenants, without adequate support, were saddled with maintenance, insurance, and upkeep of the tear-downs.
By 1973, on Wilson’s advice, Connerly decided to abandon his government employment to open his own consulting and land-use planning company. It thrived, and he spent the next 20 years building his fortune and his political cause.
In 1993, Connerly’s connections (and over $70,000 in donations to Wilson’s campaigns) paid off and Connerly was appointed to the Board of Regents of the University of California. It was during his tenure on the Board (from which he stepped down in January 2005) that Connerly first took on affirmative action with both barrels loaded. His mission was to rid the university system of preferential treatment for minorities. In 1997—on the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Connerly announced the establishment of the American Civil Rights Institute. Serving as chairman of the California Civil Rights Initiative campaign (Proposition 209), he led the effort that overturned affirmative action in California state government.
In conjunction with the ACRI, also in 1997, he co-founded the American Civil Rights Coaltion (ACRC) as the 501©(4) lobbying and initiative-introducing wing of the ACRI.
In 1997 and 1999, Connerly took his anti-affirmative action road show to Houston and Florida. He was defeated in Houston. In Florida, Governor Jeb Bush beat him to the punch by issuing an executive order to ban many affirmative action programs, making Connerly’s ballot initiative irrelevant.
Connerly has publicly patted himself on the back for the great success he has achieved all on his own – his is the glory of a self-made businessman; he is living, breathing proof that affirmative action is superfluous. That is, of course, until you dig a little deeper to find that because of certain laws and regulations, Connerly has from time to time certified his company as a minority business.
On a power high from his victory with Proposition 209, Connerly helped put Proposition 54 on the California ballot in 2003. Titled the “Racial Privacy Initiative” and hyped with deceptive promises of “eliminating racial discrimination,” Prop 54 would have actually banned the state from collecting racial data, effectively making it impossible to prosecute racial discrimination claims in California. It also would have made it impossible for the state to collect racial data for determining health treatment, which caused three former U.S. surgeons general to oppose the bill. Not only was the initiative defeated, but Connerly was recently fined $95,000 for violating campaign finance laws and was forced to reveal the names of Prop 54’s key financial backers. The all-stars (all big names from the vast right-wing network) are Joseph Coors, the beer magnate and founding partner of the Heritage Foundation, with $250,000, and Rupert Murdoch, emperor of Fox News, with $300,000. The disclosure of Connerly’s financial backers was forced under a legal settlement with California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, after the latter filed a class-action suit on behalf of six organizations, including the League of Women Voters of California and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. The settlement does demonstrate that conservative warriors can be held accountable. Connerly is still determined, however. Despite the fact that his top contributors to the campaign were conservative white industrialists whose wealth and power would seem to contradict Connerly’s underdog stance in the court case, his apparently unironic response to the settlement was to say, "There reaches a point where David has to give in to Goliath. That’s really the essence of it." So much for deconstructing the notion of black victimhood.
Connerly often garners criticism for distorting the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in seeking to lend credibility to his own misguided platform. Connerly frequently touts Martin Luther King’s quote “judge me not by the color of my skin, but by the content of my character” as a statement against affirmative action. Connerly has sifted through King’s entire philosophy for a single quote taken out of context and then used it to push his own agenda, almost always to the detriment of the constituency King represented.
In 2003, the ACRC officially moved into Michigan. Joining forces with Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Grutter, the plaintiffs in the two major Supreme Court affirmative action cases, Connerly led the campaign to effectively end all affirmative action-related programs in the state. Gratz became the executive director of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) Coalition. In July 2003, Connerly and Gratz began a misleading campaign to collect signatures for the MCRI, asking voters to sign for a 2006 ballot initiative for “civil rights.” In November 2006, the 10-year anniversary of the passage of Proposition 209 in California, Connerly added Michigan to his list of victories. The MCRI, also known as Proposal 2, sought to eliminate (1) housing and lending programs that worked to end discrimination, (2) education scholarships for women and minorities (including the LGBT community), and (3) programs that helped women achieve equal pay in Michigan. Everyone from Republican candidate for governor Dick DeVos to Democrat Jennifer Granholm and religious, community, and business groups came together to urge Michigan voters to say "No on 2," and opponents built a diverse 200-member coalition, supported by the Leadership Council on Civil Rights and known as One United Michigan. But Connerly and his cohorts prevailed.
An article in the Los Angeles Times suggests several states as sites for Connerly’s next efforts. Some predict Wisconsin is where it’s at, while the L.A. Times suggesta Oregon, Nevada, or Utah.
"Supporting segregation need not be racist. One can believe in segregation and believe in equality of the races."
-CNN’s “Wolf Blitzer Reports” 12/13/2002
“Let us not put ointment on the wound of race, let us cut it out of the body politic like the cancer that it is.” – 1/2/2003, in a column defending Trent Lott’s infamous Strom Thurmond quotes
"The terrible truth is that the black establishment has become intensely partisan, intolerant, self-centered, power-crazy, vindictive, mean-spirited. This establishment must be confronted, not accommodated." – 12/18/2000
“Blacks are the only voters in America who stoutly defend race preferences and who apply a litmus test to candidates on the basis of that issue. But Republicans never pass muster with blacks anyway—so what have we got to lose?”
“When more black people recognize that the quality of their children’s education and the bite of their taxes are far more important than the remote possibility of being the victim of a ‘hate crime,’ they will seriously consider the Republican party.”
“Every day that I speak out as an ordinary citizen, I do so as a product, a disciple, of that Reagan revolution — a revolution that produced a band of citizens at Americans for Tax Reform, American Enterprise Institute, Empower America, Claremont Institute, CATO Institute, Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute, Hoover Institution, the Young America’s Foundation, and a host of other think tanks, talk show hosts, and activist organizations dedicated to making America better by completing the Reagan Revolution.”
-Remarks at the Reagan Presidential Library, 3/23/2000
“In California, this is no longer about race … It’s about ethnicity, and those of Mexican descent will soon be a majority … They don’t want to see those categories go … They want to see affirmative action policies remain so they can take advantage of them. They want to claim minority status when, in fact, they will soon be a majority in California. They want to hide behind the term ‘Latino’ and ‘people of color,’ but most of them check the ‘white’ box [on the census form] anyway.” – 7/8/2003
In 2003, in an interview related to Prop. 54 in California, Connerly said: "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."
In an ad against the MCRI, after the announcer explains that "the only entity that’s endorsed the MCRI is the Ku Klux Klan," the ad cuts to a shot of Connerly stating: “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.”
Illustration: August J. Pollak