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UC Regent Asks CSUN to Revoke Duke Invitation

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A University of California regent who heads the campaign for Proposition 209 on Thursday asked the president of Cal State Northridge to withdraw an invitation to a former Ku Klux Klan leader to oppose affirmative action in a campus debate, calling the invitation a political ploy to portray the proposition as racist.

Proposition 209, on the November ballot, is aimed at ending racial and gender preferences by state and local government agencies in hiring, promotion, contracts and college admissions.

Regent Ward Connerly wrote to CSUN President Blenda J. Wilson that the invitation to former Klan Wizard David Duke should be withdrawn “unless it is your choice to dishonor your university and the integrity of the issue before us.”

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Connerly said he would not accept a student government invitation to appear beside Duke in defense of the proposition in a campus debate Sept. 25.

“Duke and the Klan are despicable, and I will not be part of giving them a forum to articulate their hatred,” Connerly wrote.

A university spokeswoman replied that it was not Wilson who invited Duke, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Louisiana, but the student government. Wilson does not plan to interfere and is “proud of the fact the students are using their own funds and that the decision was reached through a democratic process,” the spokeswoman said.

Connerly scoffed at the statement that Wilson--who has previously stated her opposition to Proposition 209--had no role in the invitation to Duke.

“I don’t think for one moment that Wilson comes to this issue with clean hands,” Connerly said in an interview.

Connerly is not Wilson’s superior in the state educational system. Although he is a regent of the University of California, the State University system of which CSUN is a part is governed by a separate board of trustees.

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In the interview, Connerly accused student leaders of “not dealing in good faith” in issuing the invitation to Duke, saying they are “in cahoots with those trying to taint Proposition 209.”

As support for his contention, Connerly said he suspects that the first invitation he received from the CSUN student government to take part in the debate was sent by mistake to him instead of to an opponent of the proposition. The letter said that the proposition “has the potential of ruining many of the things you stand for” and added that Duke had been invited to represent the other side, Connerly said.

He later received another invitation, without that section, he said.

He did not say that the letter contained any admission that the invitation was meant to discredit the measure by associating it with the racist Klan.

The CSUN Student Senate voted 12 to 11 Tuesday to pay Duke about $4,000 to debate affirmative action with Los Angeles civil rights leader Joe Hicks, who will get $1,000.

Student leaders met for an hour and a half Thursday to discuss whether to withdraw the invitation because of criticism. Before the Tuesday vote, there was criticism of the plan from students and faculty members who contended it was a maneuver to taint the highly controversial proposition by linking it to the Klan.

“After an intense meeting, we will continue as planned,” student Senate President Vladimir Cerna said.

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Cerna said the debate was originally scheduled as a round-table discussion with guests ranging from Duke to Gen. Colin Powell, state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) and others. But all the others dropped out, except for Duke, because of scheduling conflicts, he said.

“The Republicans don’t want to recognize there’s a commonality between David Duke and what they believe in today,” Cerna said earlier this week. “It’s taken about 20 years to adopt what Duke believed in the 1970s.”

But Connerly said Duke was not the man to defend Proposition 209. “This is a volatile and sensitive issue, one of the most important issues the state will face,” Connerly said. “We want to bring someone that represents the initiative.”

Connerly was backed Thursday by Gov. Pete Wilson, who favors the proposition, called the California Civil Rights Initiative by its supporters, who argue that it is needed to require local governments to treat all citizens the same, regardless of race or gender.

“Duke is a racist and a hate-monger, and his participation in any debate where he seeks to represent the California Civil Rights Initiative is nothing more than a sham,” said Sean Walsh, Gov. Wilson’s press secretary.

“Duke has no affiliation with the initiative, is not a Californian and is incapable of understanding what the initiative is about,” Walsh said.

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