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Wilson Prepares to Abolish Affirmative Action Panels


SACRAMENTO — Stepping up his assault on affirmative action, Gov. Pete Wilson is poised to abolish nearly a score of women- and minority-dominated state advisory councils at the same time that he has sent bureaucrats scurrying to survey the costs of promoting diversity in government hiring and contracting.

The governor's staff confirmed Thursday that Wilson plans in the next few weeks to make a major announcement related to affirmative action. Sources said Wilson will announce a plan to eliminate all aspects of state government affirmative action not mandated by federal and state law and will disclose the results of his cost survey.

While the governor's office refused to say exactly what programs will be abandoned, several high-level department officials said they have been told to prepare to disband all the advisory boards and councils that monitor compliance with policies pertaining to the hiring and contracting of minorities and women.

Established informally in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the advisory groups are made up of people appointed by individual state departments and include representatives from nearly 100 associations of minority- and women-owned businesses.

"The goal we want to achieve is a colorblind society," said Sean Walsh, the governor's press secretary. "We're at a point in our society where we're giving special privileges and turning one group against another."

He said the governor had ordered the survey of the costs to state government of affirmative action so the public can "have as many facts as possible when the governor calls for the removal of some of these programs."

The governor's latest move on affirmative action immediately prompted some Democrats and many minority business people who serve on the councils to accuse him of using the highly volatile issue to promote his presidential ambitions.

Wilson has organized an exploratory committee to raise money and support for a possible 1996 run for the Republican presidential nomination. He toured the East Coast last week and stopped in New Hampshire, site of the nation's first primary, to test his viability as a candidate.

"I believe that his timing is clearly associated with the political need to find a new wage issue and . . . to find a new scapegoat to offer that angry white male group that's out there," said Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), a staunch defender of affirmative action.

Although the governor's order will not affect the major state affirmative programs--those promoting diversity in hiring, contracting and university admissions--Brown and others said the disbanding of the advisory groups would be a severe blow to those programs.

Floyd Chavez, a businessman and member of three advisory councils, said it would remove the watchdogs that spurred government officials to do more to help minorities and women.

"In California since 1990 we've been in a recession," he said, "and right now to play one against another is wrong. It's the way you split a country."

Frederick E. Jordon, an engineer, advisory committee member and chairman of the California Business Council for Equal Opportunity, said past experience has shown that, without the advisory watchdogs, the state slowly will lose the diversity gains in hiring and contracting that it had made in the last five years.

He said he was disappointed to see a "flip-flop" by Wilson, a strong advocate for affirmative action while a San Diego mayor and a U.S. senator and in his first term as governor. "It totally surprises me," he said, "that he would espouse one thing one year, and then the next year, for political purposes, he would change his mind."

The governor's change in position on affirmative action became public at the biennial organizing convention of the California Republican Party in February when he formally announced his support for a prospective 1996 ballot initiative that would eliminate many state affirmative action programs.

Later, he announced that he planned to use his powers as the state's chief executive to abolish all aspects of the program not mandated by law, although he did not specify what programs this would entail.

Walsh said opponents who contend the governor's proposed actions would undermine the affirmative action gains of earlier years are undervaluing minorities and women.

"We certainly give minorities and women a greal deal more credit than our opponents do," he said.

He denied Wilson's actions were politically motivated, saying that the governor was using his second term to reassess government programs and "make determinations as to where we want government to go." He said that many affirmative action programs are no longer necessary and many times only demean minorities who are often inaccurately viewed as getting jobs and promotions because of preferences rather than merit.

"Discrimination is discrimination, no matter how you look at it," he said, referring to affirmative action programs. "It's time we say no more discrimination and we put everyone on a level playing field."

Over the years, numerous legislative and congressional mandates, court decisions and executive orders have forced the state to embark on a variety of programs loosely described as affirmative action. Their intent in nearly all instances was to encourage greater business, employment and promotion opportunities for women and minorities.

State reports show most of the programs have succeeded in increasing the percentage of minorities and women who receive state contracts and hold state jobs, but minorities and women have made few inroads into high-salary, upper-level management positions and rarely serve as the prime contractors on big state contracts.

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