Civil Wrongs

United States


St. Louis Post-Dispatch ( Missouri)
February 24, 2008


Over the next 10 weeks at supermarkets, shopping malls and other public places, Missourians of voting age will be accosted by an army of clipboard-wielding activists seeking signatures on at least 12 initiative petitions, maybe more. Each them is aimed at placing a measure on the November ballot that would change state law, either by amending the state constitution or by directly enacting a new state statute.  

To a greater or lesser degree, most of the 12 measures approved for circulation so far are flawed. We’ll discuss most of them on Monday’s editorial page.

Today, however, we are devoting special attention to Measure 009, which is distinguished by an extraordinarily deceptive title. Indeed, when a guy with a clipboard walks up to you at the supermarket and asks you to sign "the civil rights" petition, you’d probably be inclined to do so; most everyone is in favor of civil rights.  

But the effect of this measure would be to roll back employment and education programs that took years of true civil rights struggle to achieve. And it would do so in cynical, dishonest fashion. But because it has a well-funded, out-of-state organization behind it, it has a good chance of actually making it onto the ballot.

Missouri is one of 24 states that allow initiative petitions. The process is complicated, time-consuming and expensive, and even if a measure gets to the ballot, it still needs voter approval. For a constitutional amendment proposal to get on the ballot, supporters must gather between 140,000 and 150,000 valid legal signatures of registered voters, a number equal to 8 percent of registered voters in each of at least six of the state’s nine congressional districts.  

That’s a high bar to cross, and properly so. Those petition drives that succeed tend to rely either on hordes of volunteers or backers with deep enough pockets to pay professional signature gatherers up to $5 for every signature. In some cases, these highly motivated special interests are willing to deceive voters to get their names on the dotted line.

Measure 009, a.k.a. the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, would "ban state and local government affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment in public contracting, employment or education based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin unless such programs are necessary to establish or maintain eligibility for federal funding or to comply with an existing court order."  

The drive for Measure 009 in Missouri is part of a five-state effort this year funded by the American Civil Rights Institute of Sacramento, Calif., an anti-affirmative-action group co-founded in 1996 by California businessman Ward Connerly. Mr. Connerly, an African-American, is the front man for right-wing political interests who want to eliminate affirmative action programs.

Mr. Connerly says that the law should be "color-blind," conveniently ignoring the hard truth that history is not color-blind, and that the wrongs of slavery and reconstruction have endured and require remediation.  

Even those who believe affirmative action programs are unnecessary should loathe this cynical, cowardly attempt to ban them. It involves distorting the true meaning of words and demeaning the importance the civil rights movement for which people gave their lives.

Affirmative action programs have taken the words of the Declaration of Independence" that "all men are created equal" and given them substance.  




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