LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Black Legislative Caucus hosted State Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) on Monday to discuss his bill that would eliminate affirmative action in Arkansas. The meeting was contentious at times.
Since first going into effect during President Johnson’s administration, affirmative action has been a platform that has given women and minority communities access to better jobs and education. Steven Person, the Little Rock NAACP Political Action Chair, said his father benefited from the program.
“He was able to take his family and move to particular neighborhoods he wouldn’t have access to,” Person said.
Person joined a full crowd to hear Sullivan speak with lawmakers Monday. Sullivan’s bill would scratch “equity” and “civil rights” from the portion of Arkansas code dealing with this, and it would eliminate affirmative action and teacher retention programs targeting minority communities.
“If we’re going to end discrimination, there has to be a target that we say, ‘we’re there,'” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the current affirmative action program “discriminates” against people because it excludes “others who need help,” and he said this bill would lead to better outcomes.
Black lawmakers pushed back on Sullivan’s assertion that affirmative action is discriminatory. State Rep. Fred Allen (D) shared his own personal story of being hired out of college with the help of affirmative action, as managers did not want to hire him despite being qualified.
“I never would’ve gone to work for Abbott Laboratories if it wasn’t for affirmative action,” Allen said.
Others talked about how the program is necessary to give a “hand up” to many minority groups.
“This is not discriminating against people,” said State Sen. Reginald Murdock (D). “This is just trying to level the playing field.”
The meeting had a few controversial moments. Sullivan drew gasps from the crowd after a contentious moment with State Sen. Fred Love (D), who Sullivan said was interrupting him.
“I don’t want to be rude,” Sullivan said. “This is your committee meeting. This is your people.”
Sullivan also put the onus on Black leaders to “end discrimination,” claiming they had not passed legislation to do so.
“Why hasn’t the Black Caucus filed a bill to end discrimination?” Sullivan said.
Later in the meeting, Love said it is not the responsibility of oppressed groups to stop oppression. Instead, it is those doing the harm, Love said.
“We’re the people being discriminated against,” Love said.
Black leaders and Sullivan agreed to continue the dialogue around the bill in coming days and weeks. Person said he hopes the discussion Monday leads to a significantly amended or pulled bill.