Two years ago, a grassroots effort to end affirmative action in Arizona failed when supporters did not get enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot.
This year, the Arizona Legislature voted to see that voters get a chance to decide the future of affirmative action in the Tuesday, Nov. 2, election with Proposition 107. Proposition 107, also known as the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, would prevent the state from giving special treatment to or discriminating against someone on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.
It would put an end to affirmative action created in the 1960s to provide opportunities to groups that had been historically excluded and discriminated against.
A major proponent of ending affirmative action across the United States is Jennifer Gratz.
After graduating high school in 1995 with a 3.8 GPA and a fairly active student resume, Gratz applied to the University of Michigan, but was rejected.
An investigation turned up the fact that the university was giving special preference to certain applicants base on their race.
Gratz sued, and her case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the justices gave Gratz a victory and ended the racial preference program at the school, but only there.
The experience drove Gratz to dedicate herself to trying to fight affirmative action everywhere. Today Gratz serves as director of state and local initiatives for the California-based American Civil Rights Coalition.
She stopped by Camp Verde last week on a tour to share her feelings on affirmative action.
“Affirmative action started out as a good system that was supposed to have no regard for race,” Gratz said. “But it’s morphed into something else.”
Gratz argued that by giving people special treatment due to race and gender instead of treating everyone fairly, affirmative action has itself become a violation of American civil rights.
Supporters of Proposition 107 frame the debate in terms of a fight for civil rights, and Gratz quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech when he said he wanted to live in a world where people weren’t judged by the “color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Gratz said with all the other issues that have put Arizona in the news, she’s met many people who didn’t realize this initiative was on the ballot this year.
Affirmative action can be a double-edged sword, Gratz said. Gratz talks about a black woman she met once in her travels.
“This woman, she told me that she had to keep her guard up, that she had to make sure she didn’t have an off day or make a mistake, or else everyone is going to say, ‘Oh, she just got in because of affirmative action,’ instead of her own merits,” Gratz said. “I want to be able to own my accomplishments, to own my future.”
Proposition 107 also has opponents, including the League of Women Voters of Arizona, American Association of University Women Arizona, Arizona Education Association, Greater Phoenix Urban League and the Arizona Public Health Association.
“Prop 107, better known as the Anti-Equal Opportunity initiative, will eliminate important programs that ensure academic success for Arizona’s students,” wrote members of the Arizona Education Association. “Today’s students are the workforce of the future. Without programs that help students learn study skills, access internships and prepare for the workplace, Arizona’s students will fall behind.”
Others worry if Proposition 107 passes, it will set back the efforts of women and minorities after centuries of discrimination.
Diana Gregory with the Greater Phoenix Urban League said this initiative is being stirred up by out-of-state interests who want to make a “test case” out of Arizona.
Other states including California, Washington, Michigan and Nebraska have passed similar measures.
Either way, it will be up for voters to decide Nov. 2.