Leaders of a campaign seeking to repeal California's 1996 ban on affirmative action denounced "offensive" comments about white nationalists and Latinos made by former University of California Regent Ward Connerly in a recent news article.

Connerly is leading the campaign against Proposition 16, the ballot measure that would restore affirmative action policies in governing hiring, government contracts and university admissions.

Connerly also was the main advocate for the affirmative action ban when voters approved Proposition 209, prohibiting race and gender preferences.

In an EdSource article published on Wednesday, Connerly, who is Black, compared white nationalists to "super patriots" and said "he feared an increased exodus of whites from California if affirmative action returns."

Connerly also referred to President Donald Trump as the nation's first "color-blind" president and said affirmative action would not help Latino students in higher education.

"When we say Latino, I can find any number of Latinos who are as white as anyone on the planet," according to a quote attributed to Connerly in the article. "They may have more vowels in their last name than others. If there are a lot of those, do they count as white or Latino?"

The Yes on Proposition 16 campaign responded to Connerly's comments in a news conference that featured the voices of San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund's president and general counsel Thomas A. Saenz and the Campaign for College Opportunity's president Michele Siqueiros. Each criticized Connerly's remarks in the news story.

"People like Ward profess that race doesn't matter and yet parrots white supremacy, calling them patriots and seems obsessed with white flight from California," Siqueiros said.

The Californians for Equal Rights, No on 16 campaign released a statement Wednesday afternoon supporting Connerly.

"Only an idiot would believe that Ward Connerly, a Black man with a proud multiracial heritage — or anyone else in our broad-based, nonpartisan campaign — would be sympathetic to white supremacy," according to the statement. "Ward has fought for equality for all Americans his entire life, and that is a fact obvious to Californians who observed him over the years. The Yes on 16 campaign, flailing in the polls, is now grasping at straws."

Saenz said Connerly's comments reflected his "ignorance" about the Latino community.

"It's the tip of the iceberg," he said. "He seems to be a person who is obsessed with race and color, even as he has posed over decades as a national champion of colorblindness."

Gonzalez called the comment about Latino names "a deeply offensive dismissal of a community that has faced extreme xenophobia and racism in this country."


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