, ,

For any number of reasons, ballot initiatives are here to stay, but I resent it when an out-of-stater bankrolls one as a means of monkeying with the governor’s race in Missouri.

Ward Connerly, pictured at left with Fred Thompson, is pouring money into five swing states to support anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives, which would eliminate affirmative action for women and minorities in university admissions and in the awarding of state contracts. The results wouldn’t be pretty: because of the one Californians passed, state contracts to women and minority owned businesses dropped by 50 percent.

Besides being a mean-spirited piece of work, this initiative will, come election day, bring out the racists and those biased against women in business, in other words, people likely to vote for Matt Blunt and whichever presidential candidate the Republicans are forced to settle for.

So far, however, no signatures have been collected in Missouri, and that’s because our Secretary of State objected to the Orwellian Newspeak rhetoric of the petition title–the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, if you can believe the chutzpah of its framers. Nowhere did the petition say that it would eliminate affirmative action. What it said was that the initiative aimed to “ban discrimination based on race or gender.” These people could have come up with Orwell’s gem, war is peace.

So anyway, Carnahan added to the petition the relevant information about eliminating affirmative action and rewrote another section of the petition. The framers sued. They won on the second of those points, but the court battle was well worth the effort because the petition’s proponents were, thank you very much, delayed by months in starting to collect signatures.

Meanwhile, as soon as the word about the petition surfaced, Senator Rita Heard Days set about forming a coalition called WE CAN to keep this constitutional amendment from becoming reality. A major reason such amendments passed in California, Michigan and Washington state is that activists there did not prepare sufficiently. We’re prepared.  

Public education in the form of large hearings will be part of the strategy. Believe it or not, the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, as well as the RCGA and Civic Progress in St. Louis, are working to bring in nationally known figures to chair the hearings. Even those conservative groups recognize what a backward idea this initiative is.

The other prong of WE CAN’s strategy is to use workers from Jobs with Justice and ACORN, who are experienced at opposing ballot initiatives, to prevent petition gatherers from obtaining the signatures they need. WE CAN will post its people near signature gatherers and urge voters to “decline to sign.” Our guys will first of all try to keep the other side honest, prevent them from saying, for example–as they did in California, honest to god–that this is a petition about lowering the price of gas.

Our workers will also urge people to think twice before signing. They’ll say something like: “Do you know what you’re signing? Think before you sign, because this is a constitutional amendment. It’s a big deal.” That sort of drag on signature collection can reduce their rate by 50 percent. And if Missouri progressives make it tough enough to get the signatures, the effort may fold here and focus in some of the other four states.

Signature gathering will start any day now, because it must be completed by the first Tuesday in May. Petition proponents will focus first on small cities like Fulton and Chillicothe, places where voters will be most likely to sign, rather than starting in the major metro areas. Keep an eye peeled and call this hotline number if you see people collecting signatures: 1-800-644-0466.

It’s critical that we stop this petition before it gets on the ballot, because once it’s there, it’s  difficult to defeat. In Michigan, for example, the initiative polled dead even right up to election day–and then won by 16 percent. People don’t want to be perceived as racist, so they’ll tell pollsters that they intend to vote against the measure, but in the privacy of the voting booth, they vote what they really think.

We need to put up such a stiff resistance in Missouri that Connerly et.al. decide to push their regressive agenda elsewhere. Not only does this measure not deserve to pass, we don’t need another item on the ballot that’ll motivate more of the wingnuts to vote.