Connerly’s ‘Racial Privacy Initiative’ likely to appear on November ballot

By Justin Pritchard The Associated Press
Saturday April 20, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Ward Connerly proposes a California so colorblind that government officials would not be allowed to classify people by race. 

Voters will get to decide as early as November whether they share that vision. A signature drive ending Friday appears to have gained enough support to put his Racial Privacy Initiative on the state’s ballot. 

Six years ago, Connerly’s Proposition 209 abolished affirmative action in California. His latest ballot measure would ban state and local governments from recording race. Critics say the change would wreck anti-discrimination efforts in law enforcement, public health, education and other areas. 

Connerly believes gathering race data does not help people, and certainly cannot prove discrimination. The NBA, he said, is disproportionately black, but “does that mean the NBA is discriminating against whites or Asians or Latinos?” 

The proposition does sound good to Ricardo Guajardo, a 20-year-old Mexican-American student at the San Francisco Academy of Art. 

“It’s none of their business,” Guajardo said. “We’re all people whether we are black, white or Asian. We should all be treated equally.” 

Of course that’s true, say Connerly’s critics, but the data helps the state spot areas where whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians are treated differently by everyone from loan officers and landlords to teachers and doctors. 

“It’s a little bit like burning books to me,” said Carmen Nevarez, a doctor and medical director at the Berkeley-based Public Health Institute. “Why would you take a piece of information that’s useful and say it’s against the law?” 

Ailments such as breast cancer, diabetes and asthma afflict each race differently, Nevarez said. Eliminating race from the patient’s chart could obscure a disease cluster among one racial group and delay its treatment. 

On Friday, Connerly’s American Civil Rights Coalition will submit nearly 1 million signatures in support of his Racial Privacy Initiative. If state and county agencies certify by June 24 that 670,000 of the names are legitimate, voters will decide in November. 

Otherwise, it’s spring 2004, which Connerly would prefer. He doesn’t want the initiative to become a wedge issue in the governor’s campaign leading up to this November. 

The delay would also allow for a more aggressive publicity campaign. Connerly said he’s already raised and spent $2 million, but much of that went to professional signature-gathering firms. 

Those firms failed to get the million-plus signatures that could have enabled them to use a faster, statistical method of qualifying the proposition, so each of the state’s 58 counties must review the signatures. 

Connerly said he thinks the counties will meet the June deadline for the November ballot, but he’ll be happier if they miss it. 

“I don’t know if now’s the right time or not,” Connerly said. “All I can say, is if not now, when?” 

For critics, the answer is never. 

Veronica Keiffer, a 26-year-old diversity consultant in Fremont, said Connerly’s idea is good — in principle — but ultimately naive. 

“We are a race-based society,” said Keiffer, the daughter of a white mother and a black father. “To say, ‘Let’s just not use race, we’re not going to use those terms anymore,’ is pretty much saying, ‘I’ll pretend you’re like me and race doesn’t matter,’ when we know it does.”