NORMAN — Has affirmative action turned into a discriminatory preference that grants unfair treatment to certain groups? And if so, should it be abolished?
State Question 759 brings these questions to Oklahoma voters in November by prohibiting what the bill’s authors consider preferential treatment or discrimination created by affirmative action. According to the ballot language:
“The measure deals with three areas of government action. These areas are employment, education and contracting.
“In these areas, the measure does not allow affirmative action programs, which give preferred treatment based on race, color or gender. Affirmative action programs also give preferred treatment based on ethnicity or national origin. Discrimination on these bases is also not permitted.
“The measure permits affirmative action in three instances: 1. When gender is a bonafide qualification, it is allowed. 2. Existing court orders and consent decrees that require preferred treatment will continue and can be followed. 3. Affirmative action is allowed when needed to keep or obtain federal funds.
“The measure applies to the state and its agencies. It applies to counties, cities and towns. It applies to school districts. It applies to other state subdivisions.”
Several groups have taken a stance against the measure and are urging a “no” vote.
“I think that for this measure to pass, supporters have to count on misinformation about what Affirmative Action is in Oklahoma and what it is not,” said Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma executive director. “There is a general belief that affirmative action means a quota system where a less qualified applicant might get a job or might get admitted to college over a more qualified applicant simply because of race or gender, and that’s just not true.”
Jana Harkins, community activist and treasurer for Oklahoma State Federation of Democratic Women, agrees.
“The first concern is that the ballot language does not make it clear to the voter that a vote for SQ 759 is actually a vote against affirmative action and equal opportunity,” Harkins said.