Affirmative action bill dies after much debate

Filed under: Opinion |

Losing is always difficult. My latest defeat, however, was no ordinary loss. Despite the setback, I accomplished at least one major goal – open dialogue, honest discussion and passionate debate from both sides of the touchy and controversial affirmative-action issue. If you could have seen what transpired on the Senate floor last Friday, no matter where you stand on affirmative action, you would have been proud of your state Senate.

I am writing about my Senate Bill 194, which would have created the Colorado Civil Rights Act. This bill would have made it illegal for state agencies to consider race or gender in hiring or in issuing state contracts. It also would have made it illegal for public colleges and universities to use race or gender as a factor in admissions. In short, my bill would have eliminated any and all affirmative-action-like policies in the state of Colorado.

My bill died on a close and largely partisan 18-to-17 vote, with one Republican joining the Democrats against the bill.

Affirmative action enables society to elevate individuals based on skin color rather than merits and accomplishments. Affirmative action policies work to further distinguish the races by creating two kinds of people: the oppressors and the oppressed. We no longer live in a society where this exists.

Anybody who thinks that racism is extinct is naive. I know it still lingers, and I feel its effects on a regular basis. We do not end this discrimination, however, by encouraging more discrimination. If we continue on this path of suicidal injustice, our children will embrace the dividing line that we’ve created – no doubt our sins will carry into our children.

My opponents argue that affirmative action policies are still necessary to put every person in this country on a level playing field. They say the only way to end racial discrimination is to give an advantage to racial groups that have a perceived or real disadvantage. They argue that our goal in this great nation should be a society that doesn’t see skin color, but only merit.

We have the same goal, but we have different perceptions on how to achieve that goal. I see affirmative action as a barrier, not a stepping stone. It further divides the races, rather than bringing all Americans together. Affirmative action offends me as a black man, and it tries to tell me that I need help to succeed. It provides a stigma that a black person cannot shake, and I think we have enough burden on our shoulders already.

I do believe that government has a fundamental responsibility to not only educate its children, but a responsibility to see that all children have equal opportunity. I agree that we are failing, but the dividing line is drawn by poverty levels, parental quality and personal attitudes – not by race and not by skin color. I am a human being. I am an American. I happen to be black.

This was the essence of our debate last week on the Senate floor. I spoke with passion because I firmly believe that affirmative action needs to end.

Sen. Peter Groff, a Denver Democrat and the only other black senator, spoke with an equal passion against my bill. He believes as strongly as I do, but he stands on the opposite side. He almost came to tears on that Friday, as did I, and I respect that.

The process leading up to Friday’s debate wasn’t perfect. I have been called names you can’t even imagine by whites and blacks, and that makes me sad because it’s this kind of racial divisiveness that I’m trying to end. The vote largely fell along party lines, and that makes me angry because it’s not a partisan issues, it’s a societal issue.

It’s frustrating that some in the Colorado Senate did not see this issue as I do, but I will keep fighting. It’s encouraging, however, that the Colorado Senate provided a forum for this debate to occur, and a fantastic debate it was. Too many times we bicker over trivial issues. This time we debated, with respect and fiery resolve, on a controversial issue that does in part define our times and our future. The debate reminds me of why I’m proud to be a state senator.

Ed Jones represents state Senate District 11, which includes part of El Paso County.