The architect of a ban on affirmative action programs in other states said Thursday night adopting one here won't necessarily kill existing programs to help women and minorities -- if they're opened to everyone else.
Ward Connerly said he has no problems with helping the disadvantaged. But he said those run by the government which are targeted by race, ethnicity, gender or national origin are inherently wrong and should be banned.
That is precisely what Proposition 107 would do if approved. It would make it illegal to grant preferential treatment based on any of those factors in public employment, education or contracting.
House Minority Leader David Lujan, who debated Connerly, said the state does not give special privileges to anyone. For example, Lujan said he got into law school at Arizona State University based on his ability, without any artificial boost.
But Lujan said he did benefit from a program there aimed at Hispanic students which paired him with a Hispanic attorney. That would become illegal if Proposition 107 passes.
Also gone, Lujan said, would be a special mother-daughter program aimed at Hispanic teens to try to introduce them to the possibility of going to college, taking them to campuses. He said these are necessary because Hispanic girls have historically not thought about higher education and, as a result, are underrepresented at state universities.
Nothing in that program, Lujan said, gives them preferential treatment in getting admitted. "But they also need to be pointed in the right direction in order to be able to succeed because many times they just don't come from backgrounds where they are exposed to college and those types of opportunities,'' he said.
Connerly said there's nothing wrong with such a program -- as long as it's open to everyone.
"There are a lot of white kids whose parents have never been to college,'' he said. "You don't have to limit it to Hispanics to be an effective program.''
And Connerly said the best way to understand why the way the program works now is offensive is to turn it around.
"What do you think the response would be if we said this is a program for white mothers and daughters?'' he asked.
He said the same theme applies for programs based on gender. Connerly said there is no reason they can't be open to men as well.
"I think that there are a lot of taxpayers who want to help their daughters but don't want to do so at the risk of hurting their sons,'' he said.
Lujan, however, said opening up all programs to all people won't work. As an example he cited the Summer Bridges program which helps Native American students adjust to life off the reservation.
"Is it kind of going to defeat the purpose if you have a program specifically aimed toward Native American students and helping them adjust ... if we open it up to everybody?'' he asked.
"It makes no sense,'' Lujan continued. "There's no problem with that program. Who's it harming?''
What is it harming, Connerly said, is the idea that government should not be picking winners and losers, at least not based on things like race or gender. He said government can help without relying on these factors.
"Look at income,'' he said.
"A lot of people here, of all colors, of all backgrounds, have low income,'' Connerly continued. "And that's who we should be helping.''
Lujan said the California version of this measure, which Connerly pushed through in 1996, has had a negative effect on minorities. He said fewer are entering public universities.
Connerly said that may be true. But he said the graduation rate of those who do get in is much higher.
Lujan also took specific shots at Connerly, who is a California resident, and the fact that the money to fund the pro-107 campaign is coming from out of state. He said that amounts to people from elsewhere trying to alter the Arizona Constitution.
Connerly pointed out, though, that the measure was referred to the ballot by the Arizona Legislature, albeit with only Republicans in support. That, he said, makes it an Arizona issue.
While there are no special programs at the state level, judges have upheld efforts designed to help groups that have been underrepresented. Of greater concern to some is that courts also have allowed certain bid preferences if the government can show minorities or women are not getting a share of contracts.
That exception is at the heart of a provision of the Tucson City Code, which provides eligible firms of minorities that have not received their fair share of contracts with an "adjustment,'' allowing them to bid up to 7 percent more on product or service contracts and still win. And there are procedures to give bonus points to certain firms bidding on professional services.