MAXWELL:  Unfair advantage for blacks? Hardly

1/24/1999 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Ward Connerly, the wealthy, black California businessman and state Board of Regents member who led successful anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives in California and the state of Washington, said in November that he would play a wait-and-see game in deciding which locale to bring his campaign to next.

Well, he has picked Florida, and this is why:

First, our new governor is Jeb Bush, a born-and-bred Republican conservative who has signaled more than once that he opposes what he calls “quotas.” Connerly believes that Bush, son of the U.S. president who nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court _ one of the most anti-black moves on the national level in a generation _ might be willing to put his considerable weight behind such a ballot initiative for November 2000.

Second, Florida has become a Republican stronghold. For the first time since 1874, the GOP is in control of the Florida House, the Senate and the governorship. And, of course, recent polling shows a majority of Republicans favoring a Proposition 209-type initiative. Connerly’s major goal, if he decides to take on the Sunshine State, will be gathering enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

Shortly after he was elected in November, Bush, who campaigned as a “compassionate conservative,” said that Connerly’s crusade was “divisive” and that he wanted no part of it. After all, Bush took great pride in reaching out to blacks during the campaign, cautiously supported affirmative action and won the support of three of the state’s leading black Democrats.

On Wednesday, however, Bush met privately with Connerly to discuss what the California businessman sees in Florida as a system rife with racial quotas, preferences and reverse discrimination. Specifically, Connerly claims that a study by the Lincoln Center shows the that state’s major public medical and law schools discriminate against white applicants.

“Florida’s a state that needs to be dealt with,” Connerly told the St. Petersburg Times after meeting with Bush.

Connerly, a shameless hypocrite who made most of his millions grabbing contracts set aside for him and other well-placed minorities, came to Tallahassee with whites from the state chapter of the Associated General Contractors, who claim _ with straight faces _ that white contractors are disproportionately losing business from the state because of blacks.

Bush’s communications director, Cory Tilley, said that the governor reiterated that he would not “get involved in anything that would be divisive to the state.” The governor needs to know right now that Connerly and his misguided campaign will be divisive and will reverse every shred of goodwill he has fostered among blacks, who account for 13 percent of Florida’s population.

The ill will among African-Americans has surfaced already. In a comment to the Times, state Sen. Betty Holzendorf said this of Connerly: “He needs to take his little butt back to California where he came from and leave us the hell alone. Mr. Connerly is trying to polarize Florida. If he (leads a campaign here), then racism is back on the table.”

State Democratic Party spokesman Tony Welch: “Mr. Connerly is a scary individual, very scary. Anything other than outright rejection is failing the black community in Florida.”

If Bush does not want get involved in this divisive issue, why did he meet _ behind closed doors _ with Connerly, who is hell-bent on reversing the clock on equal justice in Florida? Is Bush, who helped establish a charter school in mostly black Liberty City in Miami, saying things publicly to please Florida blacks and saying something else to Connerly and his ilk behind closed doors?

Tilley tried to assure a Times reporter that the governor remains his own man: “The governor would be open to some sort of ballot initiative if he’s convinced there’s a problem. But he’s not convinced there’s a problem. If there is discrimination, it will be dealt with.”

Indeed, Gov. Bush needs to deal with discrimination. He needs to know that the discrimination in his adopted state is not coming from blacks or from programs that assist them. It is the same old discrimination against blacks and other minorities that has been here all along.

Connerly and others tell the lie, for example, that blacks are overrunning the state’s top public professional colleges.

Listen to the racial nonsense that Thomas Dye, a white Republican, told the Times: “Florida’s universities are hiding racial preferences in complex admissions processes that claim to be non-discriminatory yet deliberately result in different standards of acceptance . . . based on the color of their skin. Being white and Hispanic is a disadvantage in the admissions process.”

It is to laugh.

Bush should visit our major campuses and try to find more than a handful of blacks. Go, for example, to Shands Hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Sit in at UF’s law school for a day and report back on the number of dark faces in the classrooms, governor. Bush will be disappointed with the numbers at each site if he believes Connerly. Speak with President John Lombardi. Ask him about the problem of freeloading, carpetbagging blacks at UF. Ask him about the university’s quota system that shuts out whites and Hispanics.

Heck, even better, the governor can simply skip a few blocks from the Capitol to the campus of Florida State, visit a professional college and try to find those awful, undeserving blacks overpopulating the place.

If Jeb Bush is the new man that he claims to be _ the “compassionate conservative” _ then he should repeat Holzendorf’s admonition and send Connerly packing.

And, by the way, now is the time for state Reps. Rudy Bradley and Willie Logan and state Sen. James Hargrett _ the black Democrats who jumped ship and supported Bush during the last election _ to ask their friend, the governor, to reject a Florida version of California’s Proposition 209.