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State Question Would End Affirmative Action in OK

Filed by Michael Cross in Feature, Local News, News, Oklahoma Votes, Politics.
September 20, 2012

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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.

10 Responses to “State Question Would End Affirmative Action in OK”

  1. RogerClegg says:

    It doesn't make sense in 2012 for state or local governments to be discriminating against some Oklahomans and giving preferences to other Oklahomans on the basis of skin color, what country someone's ancestors came from, or gender in government contracting, employment, or education (including public universities). State Question 759 would end this unfair and divisive nonsense, and rightly so. Similar laws have worked very well, btw, not only in California but also in Washington, Michigan, Nebraska, and Arizona.

  2. ReggieGreene says:

    There are many complexities associated with affirmative action programs and policies. However, one issue which we continually ignore, as is the case with most government related programs and initiatives, is whether it is effective in addressing past wrongs. Think about this: How many beneficiaries of affirmative action programs have actually shared their good fortune with other members of their particular ethnic group, as opposed to using their increased opportunities and wealth to distance themselves from the masses of minority citizens?

  3. Helen Clements says:

    I don't think that we are readyt to do away with Affirmative Action just yet, whether for race or gender. An example: _According to a 2009 profile on the status of women in Oklahoma, our state ranked 44th in women's median annual earnings, 35th in the earnings ration between women and men, 34th in the percent of employed women in professional or managerial occupations, 45th in percent of businesses that are women-owned, and 39th in the percent of women living above poverty. This profile was prepared by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, using data from the Census Bureau. It seems to me like we still need some affirmative action to remedy past wrongs. Here's a link:

    • Thomas Rykala says:

      We have the option to remedy past wrongs through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that has been consistently renewed and the provisions within the EEOC guidelines. Any person who may deem him/herself shortchanged based on race/gender, can avail themselves of the legal route as afforded by the two resources referenced above.

      Affirmative action, in other words, has outlived its usefulness and has only created a monster that reversed discrimination is…

  4. Helen Clements says:

    Thanks to KOSU for the helpful discussions of the state questions.

  5. Thomas Rykala says:

    What about hiring and admission based on qualifications and not on an affirmative actions' definition of "minority" status? Affirmative action is a direct cause of reversed discrimination. In other words, do not penalize me because I am a Caucasian and a male. We all have to work for our gains, not have them handed to us based on the color of our skin or our gender.

    • Helen Clements says:

      That may be true on the face of it, but when "minorities" are still more poor, have less access to education, and have more of a battle to maintain jobs and grow businesses, is it unethical to level the playing field a bit? How would you feel if you were the "minority" who had been forbidden to learn to read, not been able to vote, had your land taken away from you by the "majority" folks?

      • Thomas Rykala says:

        This is not the case anymore Ms. Clements. Minorities own businesses, they have access to education through the NCLB vouchers and they learn to read through Headstart.

        All due respect, please do not get stuck in the remote past. Minorities, including women, have made substantial gains.

  6. Saull says:

    There is still alot of hidden racism especially in OK

  7. Thomas Rykala says:

    Racism is everywhere, not only in OK but affirmative action is not the way to go due to the reversed discrimination issue. I have had nothing to do as a Caucasian and a male with the plight of "minorities" and yet affirmative action would have me bypassed to meet a quota?

    Its okay for a private agency to discriminate, however it is absolutely abhorrent for any government- funded agency to take my tax dollars and tell me to take a hike because I am Caucasian and a male. It is time for OK to respect all its inhabitants by stopping this monster of reversed discrimination.

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