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Republicans To Use Martin Luther King Speech in Prop 209 Ads

October 23, 1996 GMT

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Republicans plan to use Martin Luther King Jr.’s image and quotes from his ``I Have a Dream″ speech to promote Proposition 209, a ballot initiative to end most affirmative action programs in California.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson called the planned $1.7 to $2 million advertising blitz ``a blasphemy″ against the slain civil rights leader, and a company that manages King’s estate threatened legal action to block the ads.

The television ads, bankrolled by the state Republican party, will begin running across California by Friday and continue through election day, according to two state GOP sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.


The Republicans’ spending plan is double their original budget, state GOP Chairman John Herrington said. The party’s disclosure followed reports that Democrats plan to spend $1 million to $1.5 million in opposition to Proposition 209 during the final week before the Nov. 5 election.

Bob Dole’s strategists have sought to link him to the popular initiative. Polls show it is supported by most California voters, while the most recent Field Poll showed Dole trailing Clinton by at least 10 points in California. Clinton opposes the measure.

However, the commercial makes no mention of Dole, a GOP spokeswoman said.

``It’s an issue ad. It is not a Dole ad,″ said spokeswoman Victoria Herrington. ``And it is not an anti-Clinton ad. I repeat, it is an issue ad.″

California Republicans have long been the principal financial supporters of the controversial initiative, which is backed by Gov. Pete Wilson and, to the dismay of many in the GOP, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who sparked protests when he spoke in favor of it in a college debate.

Herrington declined to provide a transcript or videotape of the commercial, saying it was still being developed.

But a segment broadcast on KRON Tuesday night shows a white woman who talks about the ballot initiative, followed by footage of the King speech.

``This is a blasphemy. For right-wing Republicans to try to put Dr. King and David Duke and Gov. Wilson on the same side of history is an atrocity,″ said Jackson, who called it a ``divisive, cynical political trick.″

``I would say as one who worked with Dr. King, it’s an insult,″ Jackson added.

Memorable lines from the speech King delivered in August 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington included his statement, ``I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.″

But King supported affirmative action, according to Steve Klein, a spokesman for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, which opposes Proposition 209.

``He made several references in his writings to why affirmative action-style programs are fair, desirable and justified,″ Klein said.

In a 1963 book, ``Why We Can’t Wait,″ King said such programs may be misconstrued by people but they are necessary to right past wrongs.

``It is obvious if a man is entered at the starting line in a race 300 years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat to catch up with his fellow runner,″ King wrote.

The proposition would abolish race and gender preferences in state hiring, contracting and college admissions, dismantling most affirmative action programs. Supporters say the initiative is ``racially blind″ and provides an absolute ban on discrimination.

``The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did away with the racial preferences,″ said Republican Assemblyman Bernie Richter of Chico, a supporter of Proposition 209. ``But the government differentiates about how it treats you on the basis of race _ that is what is so obnoxious to us.″

But critics contend the measure would reverse decades of progress.

Colin Powell, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week in Sacramento that ``we still have problems in this country and we don’t solve those problems by ignoring them and saying it’s a level playing field and it’s a color blind society.″

Phillip Jones, president of the Atlanta company that manages the estate of Martin Luther King Jr., said Tuesday night that he had warned the Republicans’ ad agency not to use the material.

``We do not approve of the use of Dr. King’s intellectual properties _ his writings, copyrighted speeches or likeness _ in any campaign or ad in support of a partisan position,″ said Jones, who heads Intellectual Properties Management Inc.