To help win over skeptical conservatives, Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani should support state ballot initiatives against racial and sexual discrimination, says a prominent civil rights activist.
The "Super Tuesday for Equal Rights" campaign is the brainchild of Ward Connerly, a former University of California regent and now chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI).
Connerly already has marshaled anti-discrimination measures through in California, Washington and Michigan. He now is working with other civil rights activists to pass constitutional amendments in Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Opponents claim the initiatives would jeopardize affirmative action programs intended to help women and minorities. For example, Shanta Driver, the national spokesperson for By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), said in an interview that the initiatives have already had a "devastating impact" on "under-represented" groups.
But Connerly insists the initiatives are designed to protect all Americans from discrimination on the basis of race, sex and ethnicity.
For his part, Giuliani supported a recent Supreme Court decision against the use of racial preferences in schools, a ruling led by Chief Justice John Roberts. Connerly was attending a fundraiser with Giuliani on the day the decision came down and was "most impressed" with what he heard from the candidate.
"Giuliani was unequivocal in his support for the decisions made by the Roberts Court," Connerly told Cybercast News Service in an interview. "I was impressed with his instantaneous response and by the clarity with which he understood the issue."
As he began to research Giuliani's record on race-neutral policies as mayor of New York, Connerly said, his admiration stiffened. He noted, for instance, that Giuliani ended preferential treatment in the awarding of contracts.
But Connerly stopped short of offering an endorsement and instead suggested that Giuliani throw his support behind the civil rights initiatives that are timed for the presidential election in November 2008.
The ballot initiatives are modeled after Proposition 209 in California, passed by voters in 1996. The relevant passage -- now a part of that state's constitution -- reads as follows: "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."
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, a legal dispute has erupted in Missouri where Connerly has accused state officials of trying to manipulate the ballot language voters will see so that the initiative's true meaning is greatly distorted.
In Colorado, opponents have argued the initiative violates the "single subject rule" because in their view the notion of discrimination and preferential treatment are actually separate matters.
Valery Pech Orr, executive director of the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative, is optimistic the judiciary will rule in favor of keeping the current ballot language intact.
"Discrimination and preferential treatment are not separate questions, they are the flip side of the same coin," she said. "Our opponents are just flat scared to let the people vote. That's why they've tried to get this thrown out." The matter is now before the Colorado Supreme Court.
Whenever the voters have an opportunity to decide upon clear, unambiguous language that prohibits state agents from discriminating on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity they respond with enthusiasm, said Connerly. The initiatives in California, Washington, and Michigan all passed by substantial majorities.
In the name of "compassionate conservatism," some Republican candidates often are reticent to identify themselves with measures that might make them appear "inhospitable" to minority groups, said Connerly. But this thinking is flawed, he added, because the initiatives actually boost equal protection for all groups. Moreover, they are extremely popular with the voters, he said.
Several Republican candidates who expressed opposition to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) were defeated last year. Mike Bouchard, GOP candidate for senate, and Dick DeVos, GOP candidate for governor, both lost.
"If Dick DeVos has the number of votes that our initiative received from white males alone he would be governor now," said Connerly. "I prefer not to pitch our campaigns in terms of identity politics, but if you just examine this issue by the criteria used by compassionate conservatives you will find that they are shooting themselves in the foot because these initiatives are more popular than they are."
Although Giuliani currently leads the Republican field of presidential contenders, some political analysts suspect the former New York City mayor's more liberal views on social issues, such as abortion, gay rights, and gun control, could complicate his campaign.
The most recent Gallup Poll shows Giuliani holding onto over 30 percent of the vote compared to 20 percent for his nearest challenger, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who remains undeclared.
John Sides, associate political science professor at George Washington University, told Cybercast News Service that Giuliani's lead could erode if an "elite figure" with influence among Christian conservatives began to attack the Giuliani's record.
But the New York Republican could endear himself to conservative voters by getting out in front of the other candidates and coming down squarely in favor of the civil rights initiatives, said Connerly.
"If I were advising Rudy, I would tell him to run toward these initiatives as fast he could," he said. "This would inoculate him against claims that he does not stand for conservative principles. He would also go up in the polls."
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