State Question Would End Affirmative Action in OK
In less than two months, Oklahomans are heading to the polls to decide on six state questions including whether to ban affirmative action in the state.
Supporters say it eliminates special treatment in public employment, education and contracts.
But opponents say it’s just veiled racism which will lead to further discrimination of women and minorities.
State Question 759 banning affirmative action for state hiring, scholarships and contracts could have an impact on a number of students in the Oklahoma State student union.
But, finding someone to talk about affirmative action was no easy task.
Until we ran into Calvin Silmon.
The Speech Pathology Junior says there are some good and some bad points in dealing with affirmative action.
“It shouldn’t be banned but it shouldn’t be brought up as an excuse as well. I believe our society still has problems. I believe racism is still alive. We just don’t put it out there on the front end.”
In a statement, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education says affirmative action isn’t a factor in award decision for any student financial aid program administered by the board.
But, the author of what was then Senate Joint Resolution 15 in the 2011 legislative session disagrees.
Representative Leslie Osborn says she knows of at least one instance brought by her daughter who is a senior at OSU.
“One of the places where tax payer dollars were being utilized for that was at OSU. It was an Hispanic student scholarship funded by tax payer dollars but the only way you could get the scholarship is if you were Hispanic.”
State Question 759 mirrors a California measure known as Proposition 209 passed in 1996.
Ward Connerly, an African American and President of the American Civil Rights Coalition, has pushed for Oklahomans to vote on this measure.
He does admit there have been declines in minorities enrolled at UCLA and Berkley, however, “In the overall UC system and there are ten universities in the California system, some are more selective than the others, but in the overall UC system the number of blacks and Hispanics is up not down.”
Oklahoma could face a number of lawsuits similar to California; although in all of them Prop 209 has been upheld and even expanded.
It’s the expansion which worried Policy Analyst Kate Richey with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
“Any initiative that’s affiliated with the state or state government that in anyway makes a classification based on race or sex, even the Boy Scouts of America could be affected.”
Similar measures have already been passed in four other states besides California.
This draws concern from Central Oklahoma Human Rights Alliance Co-Chair Nathanial Batchelder.
“Where that has happened those states have slipped backward in the percentages, the statistics of fair treatment of women and of minorities.”
What about current practices in hiring.
Shelley Reeves, a spokesperson for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, previously the Office of Personnel Management, says 759 won’t change current practices by the state.
“There’s not so much quota we have to fill, there’s more of an analysis of the current state employees. So that being said there’s a reporting process that we so at the end of the year and we basically take that report and use it to compare our staff ratios to the current state population.”
Reeves says the state employment currently celebrates a diverse workforce similar and maybe even a little better than the entire population of Oklahoma.
Opponents point to the fact that this would ban a practice which already exists in the private sector.
Representative Osborn feels affirmative action was important once because of racial and gender bias, but now, “As times have progressed and we now have our first African American president, we’re getting ready to put in our first African American Speaker of the House in Oklahoma, as far as a woman I owned my own business for 22 years I never suffered any gender discrimination.”
And, Ward Connerly admits it’s going to be difficult if state question 759 passes now or in a hundred years.
“The day had to come when race based affirmative action would end and we have to have some confidence and faith and hope that the American people are going to treat people fairly, and I firmly believe that that will be the case.”
But for Calvin Silmon finishing his lunch in the student union, affirmative action still has a place in our society.
“Those are to make up for our discrepancies in our society. To kind of say, no we’re not this way look we’re giving you this opportunity because we’re getting rid of these mistakes we’ve made.”
One thing to note from the constitutional amendment is it has nothing to do with quotas which have been outlawed in Oklahoma since the 80s.
State Question 759 will be decided on general election day November 6th along with five other state questions.