Ballot Initiative of the Day: Will Oklahoma Ban Affirmative Action?

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Last year Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma proposed State Question 759, also known as the Affirmative Action Ban Amendment, to prohibit affirmative action policies in state employment, education, and contracting. Next week voters will decide the measure’s fate.

More than 100 Oklahoma state agencies have affirmative action programs on the books. Racial quotas are already illegal, but supporters argue that current diversity efforts go too far. “I believe in the merit of the individual, not their gender or color of their skin,” explains  Republican State Representative Leslie Osborn, one of the co-authors of the measure. “Affirmative action has outgrown its usefulness and in Oklahoma we believe in fairness to the individual and the standing of their own merit regardless of sex or race.”

Opponents counter that affirmative action works well in Oklahoma. According to the state’s 2010 Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Status Report, only 6.4% of the civilian work force is African-American, compared to 10.4% of state employees. The comparison holds too for women: 46% of the civilian workforce is female, compared to 57% of the state workforce. State Senator Judy McIntyre (D-Tulsa) argues against the proposal. “It’s intended to excite and anger a lot of the Republican base and poor whites who may believe that African Americans have been given jobs and taken jobs from them and that’s not true,” she said. The ACLU of Oklahoma and NAACP also urge a No vote.

Affirmative action dates to 1961, when John F. Kennedy created the first program. Arizona passed a similar affirmative action ban in 2010.