For minority and women supplier diversity business entrepreneurs

Ginger Conrad

There's been an underlying current of worry for some years now, what with the war in Iraq, recurring disasters around the world, and now the mortgage industry debacle.

Affirmative action has popped up now and then in front of the public eye, but it's taken a back seat to the economy as far as the news is concerned. And yet, we find that the larger issues of global procurement, corporate spending cutbacks, and budget slashing are indeed proof of trickle-down economics...but not what President Reagan hoped it would be. What seems to be trickling down is some very muddy water. And drowning in that murky liquid are some critical issues, one of which concerns all of us minority and women business owners: Affirmative Action.

Ward Connerly, the spokesperson for the effort to dismantle state affirmative action programs throughout the nation and chair of the American Civil Rights Institute, has been busy this year collecting signatures for ballot initiatives in five states: Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Arizona and Colorado. It was approved for the ballot in Colorado and the campaigns continue in Arizona and Nebraska. However, not enough signatures were collected in Missouri to put it on their ballot and the validity of signatures in Oklahoma was challenged, forcing him to withdraw the measure. Makes this Oklahoma gal proud!

In the meantime, even though more than enough signatures have been gathered to put the Civil Rights Initiative on the ballot in Colorado, opponents have challenged nearly 69,000 of them.

Voters in three states, California, Michigan, and Washington, previously approved proposals banning state-sponsored race and gender preferences (even to the extent of banning outreach) in state college admissions, state hiring practices, and state contracts. In California the proposition was skillfully written using the language of civil rights to amend the state constitution. It is well-documented by Los Angeles Times' research that the people were misled into thinking they were voting for equal opportunity, and they clearly did not understand that this initiative would severely damage any efforts to rectify inequality. In fact, such outreach is now technically illegal.

Explicit in the California initiative, Proposition 209, was the exemption of federal funding, which, in the case of the Department of Transportation, carried a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) goal. Now, even that is being challenged in Oakland, California, where the Pacific Legal Foundation has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the American Civil Rights Foundation, asserting that the Oakland Airport Concession DBE program violates the California state constitution (see Turbulence Ahead?, page 53).

It's important that the citizens of Arizona, Colorado, and Nebraska are not similarly misled, and that they stand up for equal opportunity for students, job applicants, and minority and women business owners. And it's important that the rest of us continue to keep a watchful eye on the programs that have opened the gates of opportunity and enabled us to grow our businesses and the communities in which we live and work. Doing well is important, but these programs are the means by which we can not only succeed, but also do good. And that, I think, is even more important.

As I've said many times before, we're not looking for a handout. We're just looking for an open door. It's up to us to make sure that the door remains open, even if it's just a crack.

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