Gov. Jeb Bush (R) signed an executive order today wiping out race and ethnicity as factors in Florida university admissions and barring racial set-asides and quotas in state contracting decisions.
The Republican governor said his program "transcended" affirmative action and would unite Floridians.
Bush's plan guarantees state university admission to the top 20 percent of the state's high school seniors, adds $20 million to the state's financial aid budget and makes it easier for minority businesses to be certified to work across the state. Some of the proposals must be approved by the Legislature.
"We can increase opportunity and diversity in the state's universities and in state contracting without using policies that discriminate or that pit one racial group against another," Bush said at a news conference.
Bush's actions come as California businessman Ward Connerly pushes a petition drive to eliminate the state's affirmative action programs. Bush has rebuffed Connerly's efforts in Florida, calling them "divisive."
"Ward Connerly could come or not come, and we're going forward," Bush said.
Connerly spokesman Kevin Nguyen said the group will review Bush's plan before deciding whether to call off the petition drive. "The governor deserves high marks for his efforts to provide outreach programs to allow kids to compete on their own individual merit," Nguyen said.
Some black state legislators said they were cautiously optimistic about the governor's proposal.
"The governor is taking a positive step toward protecting racial and gender inclusiveness in Florida's universities and contracting practices," said state Rep. Les Miller of Tampa, the House Democratic leader.
David Mack, co-chair of the Rainbow Coalition in Tallahassee, said Bush is naive to think racism is a vestige of the past.
"There's a false perception that Florida government has been giving preferential treatment to black folks," he said. "Race should be one factor, not the sole factor."