Affirmative Action and the March in Tallahassee

By Brandy Sumner

   On March 7, 2000, 30,000 marchers came to Tallahassee to protest Governor Jeb Bush's proposed Florida One Initiative. Bush created this initiative in hopes of deferring Florida voters from voting in favor of Ward Connerly's proposed legislation regarding affirmative action. Both pieces of legislation are designed to limit affirmative action's power across the state and will especially influence affirmative action measures practiced in college admissions.

   Ward Connerly, the mixed race California businessman who played an essential role in the success of Proposition 209's passage into law in California has set his sights on Florida. The controversial Proposition 209, passed four years ago in California, eliminated the use of race in university admissions. The bill also eliminated minority scholarships and the use of affirmative action by the state in making contracts. After Connerly conquered affirmative action legislation in California, he moved into Washington State to propose similar legislation. With success in that state as well, Connerly turned to Florida where he was met by much resistance.

   Why Florida? Connerly ultimately wants to eliminate affirmative action measures in all fifty states. By moving into the state where Jeb Bush, presidential hopeful George Bush's brother, governs, Connerly hopes to gain national media attention.

   In order for his referendum to be put on the ballot in November, it must be approved by the Florida Supreme Court and prove to be of significant interest to Florida voters. Connerly's referendum, if passed into law, will ban all use of affirmative action in government hiring and contracting and also in school admissions.

   Connerly sees affirmative action based on the grounds of race and gender as dividing factors within society. He believes this form of affirmative action encourages resentment against minorities. Instead, he favors affirmative action based on socioeconomic status and believes schools can maintain their current level of diversity through the assorted backgrounds of the student body and the different economic backgrounds of the students.

   To combat Connerly's plan, Jeb Bush has arranged his own Florida One Initiative. Unlike Connerly's initiative, Bush's will not eliminate minority scholarships. Bush's initiative will also implement a program known as the Talented 20. This program will insure that the top fifth of high school graduates in each school in Florida will be guaranteed admission to a state university. According to Governor Bush, the plan will raise the number of black students enrolled in state universities. Many think that the plan is a step in the right direction for Bush because it actually lessens the importance of standardized test scores, which are often considered unfair to minorities. The Talented 20 Program requires approval by the Board of Regents. Bush's initiative also calls for the elimination of racial set-asides in state contracts.

   Although Bush's plan calls for moderate changes compared to Connerly's, a large number of Florida's citizens are upset because Bush issued it as an executive order. Although the plan must be approved by the state legislature before it can take effect, Florida's citizens will really have no voice in deciding whether it should be implemented or not.

Works Cited

Bragg, Rick. "Florida Governor Offers Plan for Diversity." New York Times 11 Nov. 1999, sec. a: 18.

Cohen, Adam. "Affirmative Action Face-Off." Time. 2 Aug. 1999: 58.

"Florida's Fight for Affirmative Action." Online. Internet. Available http://www.aflcio.org/articles/affirmativeaction/florida.htm.

Pooley, Eric. Time. 23 June 1997: 33-

"'One Florida' Brings 30,000 Protestors." Online. Internet. Available http://www.aflcio.org/articles/misc/florida.htm.