(1st Add: Includes text of the initiative)
(CNSNews.com) - A politically ambitious Democratic attorney general in Missouri is working with other government officials to distort ballot language targeting racial preferences in an attempt to affect the result, according to the activist behind the initiative.
American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) Chairman Ward Connerly's "Super Tuesday for Equality" campaign aims to place anti-discrimination initiatives on the ballot for voters in five states in November 2008. Voters in Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, and Oklahoma will be asked whether racial preferences and quotas should be banned -- a step that would require an amendment to the state constitutions.
Missouri law stipulates that ballot language be drawn up "in the form of a question using language neither intentionally argumentative nor likely to create prejudice either for or against the proposed measure."
Connerly claims that Attorney General Jay Nixon has conspired with Secretary of State Robin Carnahan to craft a statement designed to skew the outcome.
The initiative as originally written reads: "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."
The proposed changes, which would be presented to voters on election day as a summary statement, read as follows:
"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
- ban affirmative action programs designed to eliminate discrimination against; and improve opportunities for woman and minorities in public contracting, employment and education; and
allow preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin to meet federal program funds eligibility standards as well as preferential treatment for bona fide qualifications based on sex?"
"The ballot language has been rewritten so that it sounds like the initiative would ban affirmative action programs preventing discrimination against minorities and women," he said. "But the actual [original] language makes it clear the initiative would prevent the state from discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of race, sex, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin."
Nixon has filed paperwork indicating he plans to challenge Republican Gov. Matt Blunt in next year's election. Connerly told Cybercast News Service he suspects Nixon does not want his own gubernatorial campaign to coincide with an anti-discrimination measure that is opposed by key constituent groups and Democratic officials.
Consequently, Connerly surmises, Nixon aims to separate the ballot language from the actual constitutional amendment -- to the point where supporters would be reticent to go forward.
(A hearing was scheduled for Monday in the Circuit Court in Cole County on an injunction filed by the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, which objects to the language proposed by Nixon and Carnahan. But as this story went to publication, the hearing was being re-scheduled.)
Scott Holste, a spokesman for Nixon, told Cybercast News Service that the attorney general's role in the summation process amounts to little more than a legal formality. The relevant statute does require the attorney general to approve the "legal content and form" of the summation language, Holste said.
"Mr. Connerly is mistaken in his assertions," he added. "He either misunderstands or has mischaracterized the role of the attorney general in this process."
Holste said the person responsible for writing the summation language is not the attorney general, but Carnahan.
Connerly, a former University of California regent, is not swayed by these arguments.
"It's not accurate for him [Nixon] to say he has no role in this because he approves the language the secretary of state delivers to us," he said. "Secretary Carnahan does not have her own attorneys and it is the attorney general who will represent her in court."
Connerly charged that Nixon's "henchmen" were "doing everything they can" to keep the amendment off the ballot. He noted, for instance, that a lead attorney in a lawsuit filed by Missouri residents opposed to the initiative is Charles Hatfield, a former Nixon chief-of-staff and now treasurer for the Nixon-for-governor campaign committee.
Jane Dueker, another lead attorney in the case, also has ties to the Democratic Party, he observed.
Holste insisted that Connerly's assertions were "mistaken," regardless of links between Nixon and certain attorneys.
"The attorney general has always been vigilant in representing the interests of the people of Missouri," the spokesman said. "It doesn't matter who is on the other side of any argument."
Supreme Court boost
Connerly says he is spearheading the initiative in a push for greater equality, rooted in the principles of America's founding.
Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions striking down school race quotas are providing an already promising campaign with a discernible additional lift, he said.
In two cases involving schools in Jefferson County, Kentucky and Seattle, Washington, the high court ruled against school integration schemes that relied upon a student's race to determine what school he or she could attend.
"Those who have been standing on the sidelines are now coming to join our effort because they recognize we are entering a new era," Connerly said. "The [court] decisions give us enormous impetus."
Despite the legal hurdles in Missouri, Connerly said the campaigns in the five states are "going extremely well," in their early stages.
(A dispute has also emerged in Colorado, where opponents charge that the initiative violates the "single subject rule" by including both a ban on discrimination and preferential treatment. Connerly sees a concerted effort by state officials to distort the amendment's true meaning.)
"The national opposition to the Super Tuesday of Equality' has concluded the only way to defeat us is to keep us off the ballot," Connerly said. "They don't want to trust the people to make decisions in a democracy."
Twenty-three states allow for new laws to appear before the voters in the form of ballot questions. Connerly has so far successfully marshaled through anti-discrimination measures in California, Michigan and Washington state.
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