California’s Black architects still feel the lasting sting of Prop 209

Continued difficulty in securing government contracts

Carol Ozemhoya ow contributor | 7/4/2019, midnight
It’s been nearly 25 years since California Proposition 209 was approved, which pretty much wiped out any advantage Black contractors..

It’s been nearly 25 years since California Proposition 209 was approved, which pretty much wiped out any advantage Black contractors, including Black architects, had in securing government contracts.

Prop 209 was approved in November 1996, amending the state constitution to prohibit state governmental institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity, specifically in the areas of public employment. In essence, it knocked out set-asides for minorities to gain an advantage in securing government work.

Ironically, it was an African American who proposed the concept and worked at getting it passed. He is Ward Connerly, and even today, he is against set asides for minority firms. In March, Connerly spoke out about the state of Washington’s initiative to aid minority firms in securing government contracts. It’s called the Racial Preferences Initiative.

Ward Connerly and ‘set-asides’

Connerly has moved from California and now lives in Idaho, but he remains vocal about set-aside programs and is adamantly against them. He actually founded and chairs an organization called the American Civil Rights Initiative, a national nonprofit that works to end racial and gender preferences, also known as set-asides. Connerly, now 80 and essentially retired, is still quick to talk against minority preferences.

In 2006, Connerly led a similar effort in Michigan and Prop 2 was passed there, which did away with racial preferences under affirmative action programs. Before that, in 1998, he worked to convince Washington state voters to pass I-200, which also killed set-aside regulations. Now the state of Washington is considering rescinding I-200, and guess who’s out front declaring war on the effort.

In an interview with The New American, Connerly declared the Racial Preference Initiative as dishonest and deceptive in several ways. He says the initiative’s redefinition of “preferential treatment” and “affirmative action” is dishonest. Proponents claim that I-1000 would continue the ban on preferential treatment that considers characteristics such as race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sexual orientation and disability as the “sole” factor for education or employment opportunities. However, Connerly says, the proposed new definition of “affirmative action” would enable state agencies to use one or more of these characteristics as “factors” to increase Washington’s “diversity in public education, public employment and public contracting.”

The ‘merit system’ and surrounding


Connerly said they are playing word games, knowing that most Americans favor a merit system rather than a mandated, politicized quota system. Another feature of the initiative that he sees as especially disingenuous is the addition of people with disabilities and military veterans to the mix. This was done, he says, simply to camouflage the real intent of the initiative and to create a “grab bag of goodies” for so many constituencies that it would be impossible to stop it.

Connerly’s motive for fighting set-asides is unclear. However, there is no doubt that his continued efforts to ban them are having an impact. Here in California, Proposition 209 is still in effect, and while its impact is not easy to measure, the African-American architects Our Weekly interviewed said that while it’s now quite challenging to get government work, they’ve managed to obtain work and build their businesses.