Wardell Connerly (born June 15, 1939) is a former University of California Regent, political activist, and businessman. He is also the founder and the chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, a national non-profit organization that works to end racial and gender preferences. Connerly was the sparkplug behind behind California Proposition 209 (1996), which outlawed race and gender-based preferences in state hiring and state university admissions, widely known as affirmative action.
In 2008, Connerly's organization is supporting Super Tuesday for Equal Rights. They are attempting to put ballot initiatives on the ballot in five states--Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma--that would accomplish what Prop 209 did in California and what Prop 2 did in Michigan.
Wardell Anthony Connerly was born June 15, 1939, in Leesville, Louisiana. Connerly has stated he is one-fourth black, with the rest a mix of Irish, French and Choctaw. His father, Roy Connerly, left the household when Ward was 2, and his mother died when Ward was 4. The young Connerly went to live first with an aunt and uncle and then a grandmother. He attended California State University, eventually receiving a bachelor of arts with honors in political science in 1962. While in college, Connerly was student body president and actively involved with Delta Phi Omega, later becoming an honorary member of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. During his college years, Connerly was active in campaigning against housing discrimination and helped to get a bill passed by the state legislature banning the practice. After college, he worked for a number of state agencies and Assembly committees, including the Sacramento re-development agency, the state department of housing and urban development, and State Assembly committee on urban affairs. It was during the late 1960s that he became friends with then-legislator Pete Wilson, who would later become Governor of California in 1991 . At the suggestion of Wilson, in 1973 he stepped away from his government job and started his own consultation and land-use planning company. In 1993 he was appointed to the University of California board of regents. Connerly is married to Ilene Connerly who is his equal partner in the firm of Connerly & Associates and they have two children.
Connerly is a member of the Rotary Club of Sacramento, California, and has been inducted as a lifetime member into the California Building Industry Hall of Fame.
Campaigns against affirmative action
After his appointment to the University of California board of regents in 1993, Connerly began to discuss his views on affirmative action. In 1994, after listening to Jerry and Ellan Cook, whose son had been rejected at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School, Connerly became convinced that affirmative action, as practiced in the University of California, was tantamount to racial discrimination. Jerry Cook, a statistician, presented data showing that whites and Asians were being systematically denied admission despite having better grades and test scores than other students who were being admitted. This was never denied by the administrators of the UC system, and led Connerly to propose abolishing these controversial programs, though his proposal would still allow consideration of social or economic factors. The regents passed the proposal in January, 1996 despite protests from activist Jesse Jackson and other supporters of affirmative action. Some believe that the UC system had been discriminating against Asian applicants, in light of the fact that the year after affirmative action was abolished, their numbers showed a dramatic increase. UC regents countered by developing ways to skirt the new system, including essay requirements that served to reveal the applicant's race and ethnicity.
In 1994, a movement started by a group of academics had begun with the intent to get a ballot measure passed banning these types of programs in admissions and hiring by any state public employer, school, or contractor. Connerly had been hesitant to join the movement because he claimed he was afraid of reprisals against his family and business but eventually by the end of 1995 became the chairman of the California Civil Rights Initiative Campaign and helped get the initiative on the California ballot as Proposition 209. It passed by a 54% majority, despite attempts to defeat it from groups such as the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations, the ACLU, and the California Teachers Association. Connerly, in 1997, formed the American Civil Rights Institute to take their cause nationwide. Connerly first decided to support a similar ballot measure in Washington which would later pass by 58%. After Washington, he would turn his efforts to Florida in order to get a measure on the ballot in the 2000 Florida election. The Florida Supreme Court put restrictions on the petition language, and Governor Jeb Bush later implemented, through a program called "One Florida," key portions of Connerly's proposal, helping to keep it off the ballot by accomplishing some of its key objectives through legislation. During this time, Connerly also became a supporter of an initiative to provide health benefits for domestic partners employed by the UC system which was barely passed by the regents.
In 2003, Connerly returned to the political spotlight in California, pushing a ballot measure he helped place on the ballot that would prohibit the state government from classifying any person by race, ethnicity, color, or national origin, with some exceptions. Critics were concerned that such a measure would make it difficult to track housing discrimination and racial profiling activities. The measure was also criticized by newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times, that claimed it would hamper legitimate medical and scientific purposes. In the end, Connerly's poorly-funded campaign lost.
Following the 2003 Supreme Court rulings in Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, Connerly was invited to Michigan by Jennifer Gratz to support a measure similar to the 1996 California amendment. The Michigan Civil Rights Amendment, Proposal 2 (2006) appeared on the November 2006 Michigan ballot and passed.
Ward Connerly sees himself as a Republican with a libertarian philosophy. Despite his close political relationship with former California Governor Pete Wilson and their agreement on the question of affirmative action, he spearheaded efforts to grant domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian couples in all state universities against Wilson's objection. He says his views on gay rights stem from his libertarian viewpoint that governments, including government-run universities, should not discriminate, whether it's favoring some students because of their race, or limiting spousal benefits to others based on their sexual orientation.
Further, Connerly's support for domestic partner benefits earned him the ire of the conservative advocacy groups Family Research Council and Traditional Values Coalition.. Robert Knight, Director of Cultural Studies at the Family Research Council, had this to say regarding Connerly, "no true conservative would equate homosexual households with marriages, because we believe that without marriage and family as paramount values, hell will break loose."
On May 8, 1995, two years after he went public with his anti-affirmative action views, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Connerly had taken advantage of a minority preference program on multiple occasions in the 1990s. The article was based on the paper's review of the records of California's State Energy Commission which showed that Connerly had listed his firm, Connerly & Associates, as a minority-owned firm, and that Connerly's firm received more than $1 million in state government contracts. The article included excerpts of an interview with Connerly in which he admitted that he only participated in the minority preference program to comply with state law . However, the Chronicle published a correction on May 18, 1995, stating that their original source had erred and that Connerly's firm had not been registered as minority-owned at the time the State Energy Commission contract was awarded .
As Connerly pointed out in a story published by the Associated Press on May 9, 1995, due to the state's requirement that 15 percent of state contracts be given to minority-owned firms, he would have been placed in the position of having "to find a minority to turn over 15 percent of a contract which has an 8 percent profit at best." 
On July 9, 1997, Connerly's advocacy organization, the American Civil Rights Institute, expressed disappointment with the federal government's decision to reject the addition of a multiracial category on the Census and other government forms that collect racial data . This press release was the beginning of Connerly's alliance with prominent members of what has become known as the multiracial movement. Prior to spearheading the Racial Privacy Initiative in California, Connerly forged ties with the publishers of Interracial Voice and The Multiracial Activist, prominent publications for the multiracial movement. Eventually, Connerly enlisted the help of several outspoken members of the multiracial movement to assist with the execution of the Racial Privacy Initiative.
Connerly's opposition to affirmative action has generated controversy. Connerly believes affirmative action is a form of racism and that people can achieve success without preferential treatment in college enrollment or in employment. His critics contend that he fails to recognize the problems resulting from past racism, and that he fails to recognize that affirmative action programs can overcome the residual effects of past discrimination on people of minorities.
The Detroit-based pro-affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) claims that Connerly, as CEO of Connerly & Associates, Inc., his Sacramento based consulting firm, has benefitted financially from affirmative action programs in contracting, a claim that is supported by the May 8, 1995 article in the San Francisco Chronicle (discussed above). What BAMN has failed to disclose is that the State of California required state agencies to award 15 percent of all contracts to minority classified firms . Minority owned firms that were not classified as such were not eligible for the set-asides. This created a perverse incentive for organizations to register their ownership by race, in order to compete with similarly owned firms. State agencies may have been reluctant to do business with minority-owned firms that were not registered as such, since they would not get full credit for those contracts. Some claim this created a form of state-sanctioned discrimination against non-registered minority-owned firms. While BAMN's charge is accurate, proper context and background are absent.
BAMN also claims that as a spokesman for the American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) and the American Civil Rights Coalition (ACRC), Connerly earned as much as $400,000, by which BAMN questions Connerly's true motives. BAMN seeks a repeal of Proposition 209 and a return to affirmative action programs, especially in campus admissions. BAMN opposed Connerly's efforts to put the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative(MCRI)]on the 2006 Michigan Ballot.
Connerly's multiracial identity and views on affirmative action have led to him being labeled a "Uncle Tom" by some of his critics. In 1995, former State Senator Diane Watson said about him, "He's married to a white woman. He wants to be white. He wants a colorless society. He has no ethnic pride. He doesn't want to be black."
Connerly has also been accused of hypocrisy for supporting domestic partner benefits for gay couples while opposing affirmative action. Connerly's supporters point out that this is not contradictory: he opposes discrimination, whether it is against gays, or any racial, religious, or ethnic group. In this regard, Connerly disparages the term "reverse" discrimination. To Connerly and supporters, racial discrimination is indistinguishable, regardless of which racial or ethnic group is the target.
He told the San Francisco Chronicle in September of 2003 "I don't care whether they are segregated or not . . . kids need to be learning, and I place more value on these kids getting educated than I do on whether we have some racial balancing or not." regarding whether his Proposition 54 could derail school integration efforts in California public schools.
Firelight Media interviewed Connerly for their documentary video "Arise: The Battle Over Affirmative Action" in which he comments; "If the Ku Klux Klan thinks that equality is right, God bless them," Connerly says. "Thank them for finally reaching the point where logic and reason are being applied, instead of hate."
Connerly issued a written statement clarifying his earlier remarks regarding a favorable tone towards the Ku Klux Klan's support for his Michigan campaign to outlaw affirmative action quotas and set-asides. Connerly's statement read, "Throughout my life I have made absolutely clear my disdain for the KKK. However, like all Americans, I hope that this group will move beyond its ugly history and agree that equality before the law is the ideal. If they or any group accepts equality for all people, I will be the first to welcome them."
- Ward Connerly Biography
- "Racial Preferences Are Dead", interview in Reason by Michael W. Lynch.
- "Let's Rid Ourselves of Those Silly Race Boxes ", commentary inThe Abolitionist Examiner by Ward Connerly.
- "A Candid Discussion About Racial Preferences", interview in The Primary Source (Tufts University student publication, Jan 24, 2007).
- Congressman John Dingell's "Go Home" Letter to Connerly in July 2003, prior to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) launch, and counter-responses from Connerly and others.
- Can Ward Connerly be stopped?