Independence Institute Hosts Connerly

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Independence Institute Hosts Connerly

by Ari Armstrong, December 10, 2003

Photo Album

(Scroll below for news and analysis of the Independence Institute's 19th Annual Founders' Night Dinner, held December 4 in Denver.)

Jessica Peck Corry, Director of the Campus Accountability Project, introduces Ward Connerly.


Randal O'Toole, Director of the Center for the American Dream, is the author of The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths: How Smart Growth Will Harm American Cities.


Norm Olsen, Chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado, attends the reception with Roberta Monchak.


State Treasurer Mike Coffman chats with Jennifer Armstrong (no, not about her long-lost silver).


Douglas Bruce discusses the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights with Tamara Lauden and her husband Flux Neo.


State Senator John Andrews (center) greets John and Mary Dunnewald.


Independence Institute President Jon Caldara splits hairs with Governor Bill Owens over the latest political controversies.


Albin Kolwicz, an election reformer in Boulder County, shares his thoughts about new voting machines at dinner. He thinks improved paper ballots are least vulnerable to abuse.


Ward Connerly advocates individual rights at the banquet.


David Kopel, the II's Research Director, catches up with State Senator Doug Lamborn.


Report

"Can we ever be truly colorblind?"

That is the question posed in the program of the Independence Institute's 19th Annual Founders' Night Dinner, held December 4 at the Brown Palace. In his keynote address, Ward Connerly discussed affirmative action and race-based politics.

The Institute also recognized Al Knight with the Vern Bickel Award and Alex Cranberg with the D'Evelyn Award. Knight is a columnist for the Denver Post, and Cranberg founded the Alliance for Choice in Education, a private scholarship organization for low-income K-12 students in the Denver metro area.

Before the banquet, policy leaders, politicians, and friends of the Institute rubbed elbows and tipped back a few drinks at a reception. Governor Bill Owens appeared at the reception and also said a few words at dinner.

Jon Caldara, President of the Institute, said the mission of his organization is to create a "vision for a free Colorado, with economic and personal liberty." Owens also praised free markets and said, "We are in favor of empowering people." Discussing the recent unfavorable court ruling about vouchers, Owens said, "We will win this fight, because we are right on this fight." He added, "When it comes to the battle of ideas, we are winning because of think tanks like the Independence Institute."

State Senator John Andrews, founder of the Institute, lamented three recent "conservative losses:" Referendum A over water, the redistricting battle, and vouchers. Andrews said Knight "reminds us that liberal media doesn't have to be one word."

Cranberg also predicted "ultimate victory" on the voucher issue. He said the opponents of school choice are "afraid of people making choices... they want government to enforce their decisions." He noted that, while wealthier people often pick new schools by moving into a different neighborhood, too often the only available "choice" in inner-city schools is "to drop out."

On December 3, Denver District Judge Joseph Meyer ruled a Colorado voucher program passed in this year's legislative session violates the state's Constitution because of Article IX, Section 15. That section states, "The general assembly shall, by law, provide for organization of school districts of convenient size, in each of which shall be established a board of education, to consist of three or more directors to be elected by the qualified electors of the district. Said directors shall have control of instruction in the public schools of their respective districts." (This avoids dealing with the controversial Section 7, which forbids tax funding "of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school... controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever..." Section 7 is believed to have been motivated by anti-Catholic bigotry.)

Cranberg said state school money going to parents is a form of local control. Regardless, the "legislature can write a law the judge won't strike down," Cranberg said. He wants a system of education "designed to satisfy a group of parents, not a school group," and one placed "beyond the suffocating reach of bureaucrats."

Corry, when introducing Connerly, said, "I don't define myself as a white woman. I define myself as a free thinking, free-spirited American." Connerly is the founder of the American Civil Rights Institute. He has worked to end race-based admissions policies at California colleges and to end affirmative action generally.

Connerly's 1939 birth certificate categorized him as "colored." As a child, he could not enter certain restaurants or hotels because of the color of his skin. And he said people are still categorized by race.

For Connerly, the American ideal is "to be treated as an individual." He described "one race, coming in different shades... from around the globe... but one human race."

"It's wrong to categorize people on the basis of race," Connerly said, and the proper goal is to guarantee "equal treatment under the law." In the program for the banquet, Kopel describes Connerly's views as consistent with the Declaration of Independence and the Fourteenth Amendment.

Connerly criticized the recent Supreme Court decision allowing race-based admissions at colleges as "the worst decision of my lifetime" that "said it's okay to discriminate." Connerly's goal is to "get the government out of the race business."

Analysis

I have heard two basic views of affirmative action. One view was expressed eloquently by Connerly: it holds government ought not set any policy on the basis of race and we should strive for a "colorblind" society.

The other view is that, while racism is bad, there's no need to be "colorblind" or totally ignore race. For example, Greg Moore, Editor of the Denver Post, said at a public gathering last year he is comfortable in his role as a black man and a black journalist. The point is that we don't want discrimination against people because they are black (or whatever).

In a July 24 column in the Denver Post, State Senator Ed Jones took the position that the appropriate goal is to "achieve a truly color-blind society." In an opposing column, though, State Representatives Rosemary Marshall and Terrance Carroll wrote, "In a recent Denver Post article, Colorado's governor and Senate president voiced their lack of support for diversity programs in Colorado's universities and offered their support to state Sen. Jim Dyer, who intends to sponsor legislation that would ban the use of race as a factor in college admissions. They expressed hope that such a policy reversal might lead to 'color blindness' in our society. But the true outcome of their initiative will be the end of opportunity for cultural diversity in our institutions of higher education. As state lawmakers and leaders from Denver's African-American community, we are disturbed and disappointed by this proposed initiative. What's more, we're shocked that 'color blindness' -- an archaic and misleading term - was used by two of the highest-ranking Republican officials in Colorado. The notion of color blindness runs directly counter to the inclusive spirit of diversity programs. Color blindness means that you have to shut your eyes to the uniqueness and individuality that diversity programs are intended to encourage. Color blindness means that you have to not see an integral part of a person in order to accept him or her. In employing the phrase, Gov. Bill Owens displayed an ignorance of the distinct challenges Americans of color face. Owens and Senate President John Andrews made clear how unwilling many of Colorado's political leaders are to recognize that there is indeed inequity in our society and that all too often, the color of an individual's skin is the primary reason for that injustice."

Thus, there is a deep division within the black community and in the culture as a whole. Nevertheless, despite the rancor, I see both groups as making a good point and trying to achieve fairness for all people. My view is that the law should indeed be "colorblind," but individuals need not be. It's possible to consider race without being a racist, as Marshall and Carroll describe.

Does anyone have a problem with black colleges admitting black students and hiring black faculty? I know of nobody who has a problem with this sort of "discrimination." We all recognize these private colleges are trying to help people who have been disadvantaged by past (and present) racism. These institutions are not "colorblind," but they promote positive values. They promote open acceptance of people of different genetic and ethnic heritages.

Not once did Connerly describe the root of the problem. The problem with tax-funded colleges using race-based admissions is not the admissions policies. It is instead the fact that some colleges are tax funded. If colleges aren't tax funded, who cares if various colleges accept some students partly on the basis of race?

Similarly, Connerly doesn't want government contracts awarded on the basis of race. As a libertarian, I don't want government contracts awarded, period. That dissolves the political debate over race. Of course, even a minimal state -- one that offers national defense and police and court services -- must award a limited number of contracts. But if these are minimal, few people will care how they are awarded. I think government should be "colorblind" simply because I want to limit the scope of government as much as possible, and I don't trust politicians or bureaucrats to make good decisions regarding race.

* * * * *

In general, I often was reminded of why libertarians maintain a love-hate relationship with conservatives. On the matter of vouchers, I have long argued vouchers will ultimately put now-private schools under political control. I have come out against Andrews' proposed "Academic Bill of Rights" simply because I don't think it's the proper business of state government to fund or in any way interfere with colleges. For all their talk about limited government, conservatives advocate a lot of big-government policies.

Owens lent his rhetorical support to free markets, but that didn't stop him from ramming corporate welfare down the wallets of Colorado taxpayers earlier this year, nor did it stop Andrews from apologizing for this injustice. At least Owens has held firm in opposition to internet taxation. On the other hand, he also backed long-term debt without voter approval. And precisely how does Referendum A qualify as a "conservative" loss? At $4 billion dollars in proposed state spending, Referendum A would have imposed "the largest debt in state history," as Douglas Bruce explained.

Nationally, the Republicans control the government, and entitlements were just massively expanded, tariffs were raised for many months, and deficit spending is setting new records. If this is "conservatism," not even a loose alliance is possible.

But wait a minute. I just quoted Doug Bruce, an arch-conservative. Indeed, many self-described conservatives are unhappy with the massive expansion of the federal government under the Bush administration and the Republican Congress. At the same time, I recall that, in 2000, I attended a meeting where a Libertarian Party candidate explained he supports drug prohibition, and several LP candidates advocated gun restrictions on a survey put out by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.

I guess the lesson is "you don't judge a book by its cover," to take one of Connerly's lines. We can't assume a "conservative" supports free markets and limited government just because of the title or the rhetoric. But neither can we assume a "conservative" will sell out. The same holds true for self-described "libertarians." The happy alliance between libertarians and conservatives can be maintained. But then so can a happy alliance between libertarians and leftists. It depends on the particular people and the particular issues involved. We need not be blind to ideology, but neither should we let ideology blind us to the truth or the potential for collaboration.

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