The man who kills quotas
Geoff Metcalf interviews Proposition 209's Ward Connerly

By Geoff Metcalf

Ward Connerly's campaigns against race preferences in California changed America's racial landscape. Now he has taken that campaign national. His organization, the American Civil Rights Institute, seeks to educate the public nationwide about racial and gender preferences. "Creating Equal," Connerly's new book, tells the human story behind his fight. He describes how his commitment to racial justice grew out of a proud black family that refused to be broken by poverty or to take refuge in the dependency he believes keeps blacks at the bottom of the social ladder. The book describes how one man's willingness to break ranks created a movement whose end is not yet in sight. WorldNetDaily reporter Geoff Metcalf recently interviewed Connerly about his book and his latest battles.

Question: You have been called more names than almost anyone I can think of right now.

Answer: Well I have, but it really doesn't deter me. If that's the best that they can do, have at it. I know what I am doing is right and, for me, that's all I need to know.

Q: Someone, after the Board of Regents racial preferences controversy in California, said that was your 15 minutes of fame. How long ago was that now?

A: That was Clarence Paige. It was about five years ago and has been the longest 15 minutes of my life.

Q: What drew you into this battle against racial quotas?

A: Initially, it was simply the fact that the University of California, I discovered, was breaking the law. I found out from a report prepared by Jerry Cook, a man who lives in La Jolla, that his son had been denied admission to all of the U.C. medical schools and there was no question that the sole basis for that denial was that his skin was white. As a regent, I felt I had a fiduciary obligation to defend the Constitution as I saw it and to make sure that the university's policies were not in violation of that Constitution. That's what drew me into it; and after the vote was taken by the regents on July 20, 1995, to support a resolution I drafted taking us out of the business of discriminating on the basis of race -- giving preferences on the basis of race -- several of my colleagues threatened to rescind that vote. I felt that if what became Proposition 209 did not get on the ballot, they had a very good chance of succeeding and turning back the regents' decision in '95.

Q: Notwithstanding Prop 209's passage by a wide margin, that same brand of discrimination is going on today.

A: It's still going on because I think there is still a large segment of our nation, mainly in the political process, who think the fight is not over. I am absolutely convinced that in the hearts and minds of the American people, preferences are a thing of the past. The majority is very solid against preferences. But political figures don't seem to get it yet and, when we can't get a definitive decision from the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Bakke decision, public agencies will still believe that it is permissible to use race as "one of many factors" in order to achieve diversity. We need that U.S. Supreme Court decision or we need a couple more initiatives to make sure that people realize that the American people have fundamentally changed their views.

Q: Martin Luther King dreamed about a time when a man would be judged on the content of his character, not the color of his skin. At what point, historically, did it change for the black leaders when all of a sudden it wasn't the individual accomplishments that mattered but, instead, they demand special preferences for the color of their skin? When did it change?

A: I think it was right after the passage of the '64 Civil Rights Act -- when Lyndon Johnson and several leaders of the then-traditional civil rights movement convened and they realized that legal equality had been achieved but economic equality had not, in their minds, been achieved; equality was not enough. And that is why Lyndon Johnson was persuaded to utter those words "... that you don't take a man who's been hobbled by chains to the starting line of a race ... take the chains off, say run the race and say you have been justly fair." At that point, I think we made a radical departure from the concept of equality for the individual to fairness for the race.

Q: Reasonable people, if there is such a fictional character out there, will subscribe to the concept of equal opportunity for all. That is a good and righteous thing. But it is not equal opportunity they are seeking. What they are looking for is some kind of outcome-based extra something.

A: Absolutely. They are looking for parity. Jesse Jackson makes no bones about this. He wants racial parity and that is what drives much of affirmative action. It is not the individual; it is not equal opportunity for the individual. It is trying to make sure that you have parity, that you have a society that looks like America. And that is the driving force behind the whole preference system. It is not about equality for the individual at all. It is fairness for the group.

Q: I recently spoke with our mutual friend Glynn Custred. He shared a story about an incident at his college where there was an opening in the black studies department. They did a national search and came up with a candidate who was head and shoulders, far superior to anyone else. The selection committee selected and recommended that woman to fill the vacancy. There was only one problem -- her skin was white. She didn't get the gig.

A: That problem is rather widespread. I am often amused by a statistic that the proponents of preferences cite which say there really aren't many claims of reverse discrimination by whites. And yet, if you look around the nation and at all the decisions that are brought by women -- white women -- one would think that we are hallucinating to say that all these lawsuits are simply being manufactured. The practices are rather widespread and it's a fact that people don't want to defy political correctness -- or, they don't want to subject themselves to the claims that they are somehow being discriminated against. It somehow seems odd that a white person can be a victim of discrimination in our society. It is a flawed notion that civil rights are just for black people. They are for all of us.

Q: There was an interesting quote from Lee Alcorn, former NAACP Houston president, who recently got in trouble for grossly inappropriate remarks about Sen. (Joseph) Lieberman. He said, "... The larger question is if you have a Jewish candidate, can you then be critical of his political position and not be accused of anti-Semitism?" And immediately it struck me -- how many times have people been critical of black leaders on policy or issues and immediately what is the word they call them?

A: Racist! I think although Mr. Alcorn did misspeak in other respects, his point that the impression is you can't criticize lest one be called anti-Semitic, I think that is a valid observation.

It is amazing how the NAACP and many leaders of the NAACP have become so intolerant of other points of view and how they have climbed to that mountain top and believe that somehow the good Lord has anointed them as the only people who have a moral standing to be on that mountain top. Some of the most bigoted people I have met have been those who think they have the right to condemn others on the basis of race. Some of the most bigoted people I have met have been members of the NAACP and members of the whole race establishment.

Q: What has happened to and with Ward Connerly since Prop. 209?

A: Since 209, we have gone into Washington state and achieved a resounding victory there -- 58 percent to 42 percent with a 209-type measure being approved by the voters there in '98. We've gone into Florida and convinced Gov. Jeb Bush that preferences are wrong -- and he has convinced the Board or Regents there to eliminate preferences in higher education. There are still some preferences and minority scholarships and that sort of thing in the state government, but we have achieved a partial victory in the state of Florida. The courts, however, have thrown us out because they don't think the language -- which you know parallels the '64 Civil Rights Act -- constitutes a single subject. The court there is one of the most activist courts in the nation and they have no desire at all to see this initiative on the ballot. That's what we are fighting. Despite the fact that the voters in that state would approve this initiative by a two to one margin if they had a chance to vote on it.

Q: Wait a minute. I recall one of the things I thought was so pristine about Prop. 209 was how carefully crafted the language was. You had Glynn and Tom, two academic types, who were able to come up with such clear language that makes it hard to throw rocks at -- unless you are a critic of the '64 Civil Rights Act. I thought the language was the cool part.

A: The language is the cool part, and Glynn and Tom did a service for this nation that is incalculable in drafting that language. But when you have a court that doesn't want it on the ballot, they will find some way to keep it off. There, the court even makes a distinction between "people" and "persons." We use the two in our ballot title and summary. They make a distinction between the two. The court says that race is different from color, which is different from ethnicity. They are obviously searching here because they don't want it on the ballot; that's the problem we are faced with -- and I really don't know if we can overcome that problem in the state of Florida.

Q: I'm going to throw some names at you and ask for quick thumbnail comments. You had the opportunity to talk with the president of the United States and visit him at the White House. He was looking at you pretty much as a political liability that needed to be "handled." How did that go?

A: It went very well. President Clinton is a very charming and very slick guy. But he really was insincere about wanting to have a dialogue about race in the nation and nothing has happened as a result of that race panel he created. He's a slick guy.

Q: Jesse Jackson?

A: A lost opportunity. He's a man that is still admired by a large number of black people and some other Americans, but because of some of the ill-advised causes in which he's gotten himself involved, he's lost a large amount of his respect. I think he's discredited among a large segment of the American people. He could have done so much if he could have embraced the message of self-reliance and convinced people that listen to him that the time has come to move in a different direction. But he did not use that opportunity and I really think he is discredited in much of the country.

Q: Gen. Colin Powell?

A: A man that's hard to figure. He contradicted himself in his book. His book says that preferences are wrong. He released that book in April of '96 and, two months later, he was at Bowie State University defending preferences. The speech he gave at the Republican National Convention was a very disappointing speech with regard to several things. But the most disappointing part was that he still seems to be stuck back in the 1960s, arguing preferences for black people and thinking that poor is a synonym for black. But it really shows how bankrupt the argument for preferences has become when a statesman like Powell has to stand up there and use the silly -- the absolutely silly -- analogy of preferences for race being analogous to affirmative action for a lobbyist who gets special breaks in the tax code. It shows how bankrupt the argument has become. Colin Powell was less statesmanlike than I have ever heard him when he stood before the American people and made that absolutely silly argument.

Q: You had a close encounter of the White House kind. You write on page 15 of your book: "The president held my arm warmly with his left hand as we shook. Then, as I was going out the door, the strangest moment of the entire meeting occurred. Al Gore grabbed my hand too, but instead of shaking it, he ground my palm and fingers in his grip as hard as he could. I felt the cartilage compress and almost cried out in pain. I looked at the vice president, and he stared back at me with a slight smile as we walked out." What was that all about?

A: Vice President Gore is a man who is on my short list of people who I really don't like. He is a mean man -- and that experience I had with him left me believing that if Al Gore became president, I would really want to consider finding another nation to live in. There's something about him that is very distasteful. He's a mean kind of guy.

That meeting took place in the White House and Al Gore had made some comment about evil lies coiled in all of us and how we need programs like affirmative action to keep us from ourselves. I challenged that statement in the meeting and I said, "Mr. Vice President, that is truly a frightening thought." When Gore took my hand, he really tried to crush it. I thought, geez what kind of a guy is this? He is a very spiteful, very hateful man.

Q: I had never heard of you until the regents flap. I thought you were another academician with political connections who ended up on the Board of Regents. Frankly, I was surprised and fascinated by your background as recounted in the book. Please tell our readers a little about your background.

A: I was born in the deep South in Leesville, La., in 1939, and my father left the household when I was two. I didn't hear from him for 54 years after that. My mother died when I was four. I came from a background of people who had a very rich background of Choctaw Indian, Canadian French, Irish and of African descent on my father's side. That helped to shape my ecumenical view about race. When my mother died in 1943, I went to live with an uncle by marriage.

Q: That was your Uncle James?

A: Yes, it was Uncle James who helped to really to shape my views about the work ethic and about making sure you treat people the way you want to be treated. He was a man who never got beyond third grade, but he had very, very basic values. He loved to hunt and he was the sort of person who would not back down from a fight, no matter what. After living with them for a while, I lived with my grandmother who was equally as resourceful as James Lewis. Moved to California in '46, went to a community college for two years and then to a state college for four years -- student body president and the whole thing. I worked for Ronald Reagan in the Reagan (gubernatorial) administration for a couple of years, kicked around state government, formed my own consulting business in '73 and began working for candidates I believed in. I raised a lot of money -- and got to know Pete Wilson and worked for him from '69 to '71. When he became governor, I was appointed to the Board of Regents.

Q: Appointed or sentenced.

A: I often say "sentenced" to a 12-year unpaid term. That's the history of it. I did not seek appointment to the Board of Regents. I had no idea what affirmative action was really all about. I had no agenda when I went on the Board of Regents.

Q: Did you have any idea that after growing-up down south and avoiding all the violence of bigotry in that region that you might have been lynched for being on the Board of Regents?

A: Not at all. I had no idea. I was at a fund-raiser with B.T. Collins at the Hyatt Hotel in Sacramento and Rush Limbaugh was the guest of honor. I was with B.T. and Rush and I got a call that the governor wanted to see me. I went over to his office that Saturday about noon. We were talking and he said, "By the way, I want you to serve on the Board of Regents." And I said, "What do they do?" And he said, "Well, they meet about every other month or so ..." And I said, "How much time does it take?" He said, "Aww, I don't know -- maybe one or two days a month." So I said, "Let me think about it."

Q: How long did you get to think about it?

A: The following Tuesday, his appointment secretary Julie Justice called and said that the press release went out today announcing your appointment. I said, "I haven't finished thinking yet." It just happened like that. I found myself in the cockpit of racial politics, never having thought of this happening. I'm sure all of us have been at the position in our lives when we've heard something or seen something and something within just said, "This isn't right. This doesn't make sense."

Q: The presumption is in an academic community, and especially the administrative arm of that -- the Board of Regents -- that there would be a greater tendency to judge people on merit and on ability. Yet it seems what you encountered was exactly the antithesis of that.

A: Absolutely. The whole culture of academia has changed radically over the last 30 years. Merit is not what it used to be.

Q: Is that a function of all this "outcome-based" garbage and the misconception that it is more important how you "feel" about something than what you achieve or know?

A: I think it is. I really think it is. Merit is something that you can negotiate away when it necessary to do so. The other thing you have to remember, though, is there has been enormous pressure -- political pressure -- on the University of California for probably 20 years from the Legislature to achieve "diversity." First you had it from Willie Brown and Maxine Waters, who were controlling the purse strings of the university. Maxine was the chair of a subcommittee on ways and means that had control over the budget of the university. Willie Brown had passed legislation that would guarantee not only admission based on race, but graduation based on race. So you had pressure from those quarters. And then, when the Latino caucus took over, you had pressure from their end saying: we just want our people to have access to the university, and we don't care how you do it, but it is our turn. There has been enormous pressure from the black caucus and from the Latino caucus on the University of California to weaken its standards of merit and to make sure that parity is achieved as they define it.

Q: Don't black leaders recognize that by making it a shake and bake done deal where there is no accomplishment and everything is outcome-based that they are denigrating not only the perceived accomplishment but also the student they are putting through the program?

A: They reject the argument. Whenever I have debated Jesse Jackson and made the argument that he is diminishing the accomplishments of people, he merely rejects it.

Q: You have had successes in California, Washington and Florida, albeit somewhat checkered because of the obstructionist courts. What do you see for the future?

A: What I see for the future is we are going to go either one of two ways. We are either going to embrace as a nation the view that race matters and we have to use race to get beyond race, in which event we will continue down the path of more race consciousness, more multi-culturalism, more identity politics. Or, we are going to embrace the notion that Glynn and Tom and Pam and you and others have embarked on -- that race really has no place, as Kennedy said, race has no place in American life or law. And it's not just a debate about affirmative action or preferences -- it's about identity, about skin color, about ethnic background. What role is this going to have in American society? Especially in the public sector of our lives. And there's a real battle going on within our society, within our culture, about this. And for awhile there, I thought we were losing the battle entirely. As I listen to Colin Powell and as I watch part of the presidential campaign unfold, I am terrified of the prospect we might lose this thing.

Q: It now seems as if this whole outcome-based insidious cancer of Goals 2000 is kind of homogenizing our youth to the point where achievement is bad. If you distinguish yourself from your peers, it diminishes them in someway. That seems like a cancer.

A: It is a cancer -- and it is in the body politic throughout. I'm not sure of any chemotherapy (and I mean no disrespect to people who have cancer by talking about it in this way). But I don't know how we're going to carve it out of there, Geoff. It is deep-seated. It is in the academic institutions to such an extent that it just seeps out of every pore.

Q: But it defies reason and logic. One would expect that universities would focus on reason and logic, but they don't. It seems as though it's all territorial imperatives and political "stuff."

A: That plus the purse strings of legislatures. If you were to go into every state in this nation and try to figure out what is it that is keeping these institutions committed to policies that the courts are striking down everyday -- why are they so ignorant of what is happening in the judicial system? -- you would realize that somewhere along the line, there is a legislature with members who are black or Latino who are demanding that under-represented minorities be admitted in proportion to their numbers in the population. That is a powerful political influence that those of us who are involved in this campaign have not begun to realize, but I see it everyday as a regent. I see the pressures that we get from the legislators who insist: "We don't care how you do it." As one of them said to us: "Just be sure that we have adequate representation."

Q: Are you making progress anywhere other than California, Washington and Florida?

A: I think we're slowly making progress in the overall population. I think more people realize that this is indeed a problem. Up until now, there has been the view that affirmative action is benign. Nobody gets hurt. We're just giving people opportunity. And we have surrounded the language of this issue with fuzzy sounding words like "inclusion" and "diversity" and "opportunity."

Q: But Ward, everybody is getting hurt.

A: I know that. And more and more people are coming to know that as well.