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Amendment to end affirmative action draws protest

Oklahoma voters will decide in November whether to prohibit the use of affirmative action in state government hiring practices, contracting and education.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND mrolland@opubco.com Published: September 23, 2012
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However, there are significantly fewer Hispanic individuals employed in state government than are employed in the Oklahoma private sector.

According to the annual report produced by the Office of Equal Opportunity Workforce Diversity, Hispanic employees account for 2.7 percent of the state workforce, while the private sector employs roughly 4.5 percent.

Ruben Aragon, executive director of the Latino Community Development Agency, said this is one of several attempts by lawmakers to limit the growth and role of the Hispanic population in Oklahoma.

“The laws are some directed towards let's have fear and exclusion. We need to change that to opportunity and inclusion,” Aragon said. “But the opportunity has to be more than just for employers. Employers see the opportunity, the opportunity to exploit.”

He said those opportunities don't exist, and pointed to the hard labor of roofing that Hispanic workers are often left to perform.

“It's nowhere near a level playing field,” he said.

Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, said his main concern was not over hiring practices but the contracts the state awards to minority-owned business.

“We just need to look at the merits of a person, or when awarding a state contract, the merits of business, rather than the color of their skin,” Shortey said. “People need to be rewarded on what they do or don't do, not on what they were born as.”

Shortey said as someone who is half Sioux he would far prefer to be awarded a contract because of the merits of his work rather than his race.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation aims to award 9 percent of its contracts to businesses owned by people of color and women. That goal was met in 2010, exceeded in 2008 and 2011, and missed in 2009.