When Ed Jones ran for the state Senate two years ago, many of his fellow African-Americans in central and southern Colorado Springs rallied behind him.
Now, some of them are ready to unite against him.
Saying Jones has let them down, a group of black activists has begun working on a petition to recall the Republican senator, who won Senate District 11 by a mere 651 votes in 2002.
A main motivating factor, they say, is Jones' recently introduced bill to eliminate affirmative action in Colorado.
"He has not served us," said Lillian Mallory, one of the activists, who is also the Democratic Party chairwoman for House District 17.
A skeptical crowd
Mallory said this week that she and others are preparing to submit a recall petition to the secretary of state. She announced the plans Sunday during a meeting of the Colorado Springs chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, at which Jones appeared to answer questions about his affirmative-action bill.
Her announcement drew applause from the more than 50 people who showed up for the meeting at the Hillside Community Center.
The meeting came after Jones was recently quoted in the Gazette as saying he didn't want to meet with black leaders in the Springs to discuss his bill. On Sunday, Jones claimed he had been misquoted and said local black leaders had not yet called him to request a meeting when the news article appeared.
Addressing a skeptical crowd, Jones said he realized few people in the audience agreed with him.
"I think reasonable people of color can agree to disagree on these issues," he said.
Jones said he believes affirmative action programs actually harm minorities by creating the mistaken impression that all people of color who succeed have gotten where they are only because of preferential treatment.
"I have never denied that this policy has helped some of our children individually, but it does so at a cost to all of our children," Jones said, reading from a prepared speech. "It paints all of us with the same brush, making it appear that we've all benefited from preferential treatment, whether we have or not."
People of color have gotten to a point where affirmative action is no longer necessary to get ahead, Jones asserted.
"I'm saying, we don't need no help," Jones said. "We're not living on the plantation anymore, folks. We can get out and do things."
Chuckles and groans
No one in the audience, however, seemed to agree with Jones. Young and old -- many of them longtime friends and neighbors of the senator -- lined up to speak against his proposed bill.
Several speakers said affirmative action is still necessary because racism and discrimination continue to make it hard for minorities to get into colleges and land jobs, regardless of their qualifications.
"We must have preferential treatment, and the reason we must have it is we don't have equal opportunities," said the Rev. Milton Proby, a longtime local civil-rights activist.
Though the debate was civil, the crowd variously chuckled and groaned at Jones' comments -- for instance, when he said affirmative-action programs haven't helped and then turned around to say minorities have made great progress since the programs began 40 years ago.
"Your logic isn't even good," one man in the audience shouted.
But more than just their philosophical disagreement with Jones on the question of affirmative action, several people said it was a sense of betrayal and neglect that upset them.
When Jones was elected, they had hoped he would go to the Capitol and address problems of importance to them, from unemployment to deteriorating schools. Instead, they charged, Jones has stopped speaking with people in the community and has pushed proposals that directly undermine their interest, from school vouchers to eliminating affirmative action.
"What we're sad about is having to come here and defend [affirmative action] against you," said the Rev. James McMearn, pastor of New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, addressing Jones. "I'm so sad to see you where you are."
The right to recall
The introduction of the anti-affirmative action bill was the final straw to many people, Mallory said. Jones introduced the bill without having discussed it with local black leaders, most of whom learned about it through the media.
Ron Cousar, a board member of the local NAACP chapter, drew loud applause when he expressed support for unseating Jones.
"When you ran for office, a lot of these people mobilized behind you," Cousar told Jones, gesturing at the crowd. "When you ran, I felt pretty good about seeing a black man, an African-American male, running. ... But what I'm hearing from you is telling me that we need to get you out of there."
Jones' bill would be "detrimental to African-Americans and other minorities," Cousar said. "When there's something in your way that's detrimental to your survival, remove it. We need to mobilize to remove this man."
To hold a recall election against Jones, petitioners would need to gather at least 6,535 valid signatures from registered voters in Senate District 11, which includes core areas of Colorado Springs as well as Manitou Springs. The number represents 25 percent of the votes cast in the district during the 2002 general election.
Jones, whose current Senate term expires in 2006, said that if constituents want to vote him out of office, they have the right to do so.
"I'm OK with that," he said.
-- Terje Langeland