Initiative 200: The Washington State Civil Rights Initiative

IN THE NAME OF RACIAL EQUALITY, over the past 25 years, America’s civil rights laws have evolved into a complex and confusing system of racial quotas, racial preferences, and other set-asides that most Americans oppose. Today’s civil rights laws do not forbid race discrimination, they require it. They do not promote equal opportunity, they undermine it. Their goal is not a color-blind society where the government protects all Americans from race discrimination, their aim is proportional representation where the government actually engages in race discrimination by using different rules for applicants of different races. The sad effect of these government policies is to encourage people to exploit their racial differences to get ahead.

How did things get so far off track? It happened when the moral principle of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—equal treatment under the law, regardless of race—was abandoned by the civil rights movement in favor of programs that required race-based results: In schools it meant forced busing. In colleges and universities, it meant political correctness masquerading as “sensitivity.” And in contracting and hiring, it meant hiring by race.

This has caused a fissure between mainstream America and liberal elites. While most people want to move beyond race, it seems that liberal elites want to dwell on it. They do not look beyond someone’s skin color, they focus on it. In so doing, they warp the ideals of America’s most cherished civil rights advocate, Martin Luther King. Dr. King did not dream of an America where his children’s race would count for them instead of against them. He dreamed of an America where his children would be judged by their abilities and character instead of their race. And that’s the kind of America envisioned by Initiative 200, the Washington State Civil Rights Initiative.

Initiative 200 is not only refreshingly simple and clear, but is also the embodiment of the moral principle of equal treatment for all—regardless of race. The Initiative envisions a society where children will be judged as individuals and not as members of racial “groups.” And if it passes, the Initiative will end government quotas and racial preferences in Washington state’s public hiring, contracting, and public education—particularly in college admissions.

The recent drive to do away with racial preferences in America was launched by a black man, Ward Connerly, a University of California regent, who was appalled at seeing the basic principle of the civil rights movement trashed in order to guarantee “diversity” in student enrollment. Connerly led the drive to do away with set-asides based on race and gender by chairing the Proposition 209 campaign in California. Prop 209 was the nation’s first ballot measure to prohibit preferences and set-asides that allow a less qualified applicant to be selected over a more qualified applicant because of race or gender. It passed in America’s most multi-ethnic state, 55-45, despite having almost no endorsements from newspapers or business leaders.

The NAACP and the ACLU, perhaps the two organizations most fiercely committed to racial quotas, have declared war on Initiative 200. The NAACP has pledged $50,000 to defeat I-200, and the ACLU has kicked in $37,500. These and other large contributions are being used to pay for an advertising strategy that will focus on the false claim that Initiative 200 would end all affirmative action programs. In fact, Initiative 200 prohibits only those programs that use race to select a less qualified applicant over a better qualified applicant. Outreach and recruitment programs will not only be allowed, they will likely expand—as they have in California—now that set-asides have been abolished. Opponents allege that the Initiative is divisive, but they misjudge the source of the problem by failing to recognize that it is the current system that encourages acrimony by emphasizing race rather than minimizing it.

Opponents also observe that in California the number of blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans admitted to state colleges and universities declined following the passage of 209. But that presents an incomplete picture. For although the numbers of minorities fell at Berkeley and UCLA, they went up at other campuses. In fact, the overall number of minorites declined only slightly, as did the number of whites. Asians actually increased their numbers.

With the passage of Initiative 200, Washington would become the second state to go on record as opposing quotas. Two polls this year show that 69 percent of the likely voters favor the Initiative. But its opponents, including Big Government, Big Labor, Big Media, and even Big Business will be throwing everything they have into defeating I-200. The cause of a color-blind society needs the support and prayers of all conservatives on behalf of this important ballot initiative. If we stand firm and stand together, we can change history.

Mr. Carlson is Chairman of the Washington Institute for Policy Studies and Chairman of the Washington State Civil Rights Initiative.