The Affirmative Action Civil Rights Council continued Thursday to provide oversight to state agencies in an effort to increase employment of minorities and women, despite the momentum of a petition campaign seeking to do away with affirmative action in Oklahoma.
The California-based American Civil Rights Institute is the brains and dollars behind the Oklahoma Human Rights initiative. The group is seeking to get on the November ballot a vote to end gender and race-based preferences in the hiring of state employees, public contracts and public education.
"This is not a black and white thing,” said state Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City and a member of the council. "The unfortunate thing is that people are signing this, without understanding how devastating this is going to be to women. More than anyone else, this is going to set women back 50 years.”
A similar initiative — backed by the same group — was successful in Michigan during the midterm elections as well as in California and Washington.
Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona and Missouri were chosen by Ward Connerly, the founder of the American Civil Rights Institute, as the next states where he would push for the change.
"Oklahoma is one of the states that we chose, but there is local support for it,” Connerly said. "That was one of the deciding factors.”
The proposal, State Question 737, also would affect small businesses, as there are programs established to help small businesses run by minorities and women. A minimum of 138,970 signatures of state registered voters must be obtained for there to be a chance of getting it on a general election ballot.
Oklahoma supporters would not speak to specifics in terms of the number of signatures, but say the local effort is doing quite well.
Oklahoma state government has nearly 20,000 women employees and more than 7,000 minority employees.
Peter Schmidt, a novelist and deputy editor for the Chronicle of Higher Education, says criticism against affirmative action is mostly about perceptions.
About half of white people over the age of 18 think they have been passed over by a less-qualified black, he said.