Just over a week ago, a joint resolution seeking to amend the Utah Constitution to bar affirmative action policies in government employment, contracts and university admissions streaked into the Legislature, seemingly out of nowhere.
But it turns out the nationally-organized Patrick Henry Caucus is backing HJR24 and if it passes each chamber with a two-thirds majority vote, the conservative organization intends to help persuade voters to approve the measure in November.
"We view this as part of the state sovereignty initiative," said Rep. Carl Wimmer, who founded Utah's Patrick Henry Caucus. "We'll put in the footwork to get the constitutional amendment passed."
And the battle against reverse discrimination -- perceived or real -- is evidently well under way.
"We have thousands of members throughout the state," Wimmer said, "that will hold their legislators accountable for their vote on this issue."
HJR24 grew legs shortly after a Feb. 11 House Republican Caucus visit from Ward Connerly of California's American Civil Rights Coalition (ACRC), a nonprofit organization established in 1997 as part of a national effort to end racial and gender preferences.
Jennifer Gratz, who won a U.S. Supreme Court appeal of her University of Michigan reverse-discrimination case, accompanied Connerly.
Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, is HJR24's sponsor -- Wimmer abandoned his bill when Oda's came forward to avoid duplication.
Less than 24 hours after Connerly's visit, HJR24 had cleared a committee hearing and landed in the House where it stalled, still awaiting debate and a vote.
"There was a little bit of concern by a couple of people that this was moving awfully fast," Oda said, "and they'd like time to get their thoughts together on it."
Oda worries that hiring quotas, based on race or gender rather than ability, are still in use "but no one admits to it."
"Public education, during the interim, said they're doing all they can for diversity's sake to hire as many ethnic teachers to fit the makeup of the classrooms," Oda said. "What happened to merit? If this is truly about the kids, we want the best for them."
House Majority Whip Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, credited Oda for slowing the bill down.
"At face value, who can argue with what it says?" Dee asked.
But in his job as Weber County's human resource director, Dee said that hiring decisions are based on qualifications -- not quotas or an affirmative action plan.
"We do what he is asking already," Dee said.
The measure also has university leaders scratching their heads.
"We currently operate in the same spirit as what this would legislate," said John Kowaleski, Weber State University spokesman. "We do not have any external or self-imposed quotas that we are required to meet and applicants for admission and employment are evaluated based on their merits."
The state Board of Regents has an anti-discrimination policy in place already, said spokesman Spencer Jenkins.
"There are currently no quotas to fill at Utah universities," Jenkins said. "We're trying to figure out what issue is being addressed with this amendment."
Jeff Hartley, former head of the state Republican Party, is now lobbying for Connerly's ACRC to advance the measure. Despite claims by some that HJR24 is dead, Hartley insists it's still on the move.
Connerly's group has successfully pushed similar initiatives in California, Washington and Nebraska, with one still pending in Arizona.
Connerly's nonprofit also hired attorney Chris Kyler, who serves as chief executive officer for Utah's Association of Realtors, to make sure HJR24 lines up with Utah's laws.
California's Proposition 209 withstood high-court scrutiny, Kyler said, and now serves as the blueprint for subsequent efforts.
While proponents say HJR24 is about fairness and upholding the intent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, opponents are asking why the measure needs to be engraved in the state's highest law.
Minority Leader David Litvack said that House Democrats have united against the measure. And, speaking for himself, he questions the need and the rush.
"They have no proof that reverse discrimination even exists," said the Salt Lake City Democrat. "Yet we're going to ask citizens to amend the state Constitution."
"That's a sacred document," Litvack added. "It should not be amended based on myth and misperception."