Affirmative Action Ban Would Hurt State's Future


Detroit Free Press, March 9, 2006

Throughout this month of March, in our schools and libraries, in the news media and our town halls, the people of Michigan will observe Women's History Month. In February, it was Black History Month that brought us together for moments of remembrance and reflection. These observances help us better understand that our nation's history is an unending struggle to expand the bounds of human freedom step by step so that, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, America could "make real the promises of democracy."

Whether the calendar reads February and March or August and September, history teaches that our greatness as a nation is rooted in the belief that freedom truly is "indivisible" and in our ability to make one nation from many peoples. While elsewhere in the world differences lead to violence and tyranny, in America today, our strength is our diversity.

The deceptively named Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, slated to appear on the November ballot in Michigan, asks us to turn our backs on this proud history and, in doing so, to diminish the prospect of a prosperous future for our state. It flies in the face of our most dearly held values. It would deny our state the ability to compete for jobs and economic growth in our increasingly global economy.

I stand with educators and clergy, business and labor, elected officials and ordinary citizens from across our state in opposing this initiative.

It's no wonder that the impetus for this constitutional amendment has come from an outsider, California activist Ward Connerly. Had he been from Michigan, he'd know what we know: that our diversity is part and parcel in our economic strength.

That's why Michigan's business community is speaking out against this proposal loudly and clearly. From the Detroit Regional Chamber to the Grand Rapids Chamber to our largest corporations, the message has been the same: Diversity is critical to our economic future. If Michigan is going to compete and win in the global economic arena, we need to be able to tap the talents of all members of our team.

Nobody wants quotas in hiring or in admissions to our universities. Quotas are, and should be, against the law. This initiative will not change that. But it would end the very affirmative action programs that ensure every Michigan citizen has a fair chance to succeed.

We have a great need for more scientists and engineers to make Michigan's economy grow, but this constitutional amendment would eliminate programs that are encouraging female and minority students to pursue these critical careers. We need to eliminate the achievement gap in education in Michigan, but this proposal would end programs that help minority students achieve the high standards we are setting in our schools.

I travel to the four corners of our country and across the globe to bring jobs home to Michigan. Whenever I am trying to convince a new business to set up shop in Michigan, our quality of life and the special character of our state -- from our Great Lakes to our great appreciation of diversity -- are huge pluses. If our state becomes known as the place that tried to turn back the clock on affirmative action, we will send just the opposite signal at a time when we can least afford it.

It is possible the proponents of this effort to change our Constitution chose Michigan as their next affirmative action battleground precisely because we are a state struggling to transform our economy in the wake of federal policies that have literally shipped our manufacturing jobs overseas by the tens of thousands. Perhaps they thought that our economic problems would force us to turn on each other, to pit neighbor against neighbor.

If Mr. Connerly knew us better, he would understand the futility of that approach. The people of our state have faced and met economic challenge before, because we understand the importance of teamwork and unity.

When we look back at our history, all of us, regardless of gender or race, religion or ethnicity, can be proud that it documents the steady advance of freedom and equality. Guided by that understanding, we can all write another page in that proud history by rejecting this wrongheaded ballot proposal in November.

Ward Connerly's Open Letter in response to this OpEd is here.

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