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Published: Friday, 6/15/2007

Drolet has a different take on civil rights in Michigan

MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. - Leon Drolet is not wishy-washy, whatever else you might say about him. Thanks to term limits, he had to leave the Michigan Legislature in January, but he's not exactly a stranger to Lansing. Whenever there might be a vote on a tax hike, he loads his giant pink Fiberglas pig, Mr. Perks, on a trailer.

Then he parks his pig, emblazoned with anti-tax slogans, as close to the Capitol dome as he can get, and hands out literature on behalf of the Michigan Taxpayer Alliance. "I am a libertarian Republican," he says, with the accent on libertarian.

Now a Macomb County commissioner, the 39-year-old Drolet wants no new taxes, no way, no how, no matter what.

But Leon Drolet made headlines across Michigan last week for something else that has left the entire civil rights community aghast.

He is among the state's most outspoken opponents of what most call affirmative action - the use of race as a factor in college admissions and government hiring. But last week, much of the state was stunned by the news that Mr. Drolet had been named chairman of the state advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Much of the traditional civil rights community was angry, aghast, and appalled.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights issued a statement that was milder than some. "In a state with such a rich history of civil rights, it is most disappointing by selecting a candidate with a one-issue civil rights platform at odds with every established civil rights organization, the U.S. Commission has all but erased its credibility as a proponent for civil rights."

That's not what Mr. Drolet thinks, but he defines civil rights a bit differently. He thinks everyone should have equal rights - but that nobody should get any special preferences or favors.

Last year he was the proud chair of a movement some charged was deceptively named. The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative had as its goal abolishing the use of race as a factor in college admissions and public sector hiring - the practice most call affirmative action.

They managed to get a constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot, as Proposal 2, with a little help and a lot of money from California businessman Ward Connerly. Despite opposition from virtually all the political establishment, it passed overwhelmingly.

"I don't believe in quotas, but I do believe in civil rights," Mr. Drolet said.

Though nominally a Republican, he called President Bush's record on civil rights "terrible," mostly because of the Patriot Act, which he sees as an outrageous intrusion into our liberties.

Mr. Drolet said he was actually planning on reviving the advisory panel, and wanted to look into the question of whether prisoners' religious freedom was being violated in Michigan prisons.

Frankly, one wonders if those who are so bitterly opposed to his views on affirmative action ought to stop and think that Mr. Drolet's appointment may be the best thing that ever happened to civil rights.

Since when did it become a crime to have to deal with people with different views? The fact is, nobody can remember the last time the advisory panel he now chairs even met. Most people in Michigan don't even know that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a body started by President Dwight D. Eisenhower - still exists.

Having a healthy and spirited debate over civil rights issues might be a good thing for all concerned. These days, people tend to talk about such things only with people who agree with them.

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Thinking of going to the Stratford Festival? If you are heading for a Canadian vacation this year, be ready for a serious case of credit card statement shock. The Canadian dollar was worth only 62 cents five years ago.

Now, it is moving close to parity, which means that everything in Canada costs more, and everything in America costs less, if you happen to be Canadian. Sal Guatieri, senior economist for the Bank of Montreal, said "the main factors are commodity prices." He thinks the Canadian dollar may even briefly surpass the U.S. dollar but eventually settle back to the 80-90 cent range.



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