Proposition 107, the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, may not have received much attention yet, but in November, voters will be asked whether they want to amend the state's Constitution to ban affirmative action.
"We should be judging people on their character and their merit and not their skin color or their sex," said Jennifer Gratz, a Prop 107 advocate with the Sacramento-based nonprofit American Civil Rights Coalition.
Gratz, who was in Ahwatukee Foothills this week, entered the national spotlight in the mid-1990s when she sued the University of Michigan based on the claim that she unfairly was denied entry to its law school because of affirmative action policies. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gratz's favor, striking down the policy. Since then, she has joined forces with former University of California regent Ward Connerly, who has campaigned for laws banning affirmative action in several states.
The Arizona ballot initiative, locally championed by state Rep. Steve Montenegro (R-Litchfield Park), mirrors policies adopted in states like California, Washington, Florida, Michigan and Nebraska, Gratz said. Proponents failed to get the issue on the ballot in Arizona in 2008.
"It typically takes two shots to get the momentum building," Gratz said.
If adopted, the law would prohibit the use of affirmative action in public employment, public education and public contracting.
"There are actual programs in this state that discriminate against some to give preference to others. Any programs that do give preference or discriminate based on race or sex would have to be opened up to everyone," Gratz said. "It's the basic argument that the government shouldn't be picking winners and losers based on race or sex."
Not everyone is lining up to support the measure. State Rep. Rae Waters (D-Ahwatukee) said the challenge is to make sure the measure doesn't go too far and have unintended consequences.
"Quite frankly, I think we are putting way too many things into the Constitution," she said. "I think it's too much government, which I think is shocking coming from a Democrat."
When it comes to education, there needs to be some discretion, Waters said. Diversity and equality aren't necessarily in opposition to one another, she said.
"You need to address the issue of the individual child," Waters said. "If you are put into this position where you have to treat everyone with the same formula, I don't think it works."
But Gratz said it's better to focus on socio-economic status. Affirmative action policies aren't necessarily targeted to help those in need, she said.
"If there's anyone we're going to help, it should be kids that have struggled and didn't have all the advantages," she said.
Affirmative action policies can have negative effects, such as causing resentment among people who may feel, fairly or not, that they've been discriminated against, Gratz said. Such policies also potentially can foster the perception that individual women and minority members may have benefited from such programs unfairly, even though their achievements were based on merit, she said.
It's important to have racial and gender diversity, but not at the expense of people's right to be treated equally by the government, she said.
"I think there are still pockets of racism and I fully understand we have a horrible history in this country when it comes to racism, but two wrongs don't make a right," Gratz said.