If Arthur Fletcher runs for president next year, it won't be a conventional campaign.
His strongest vitriol is leveled against fellow Republicans, he's contemplating a campaign theme that could be political suicide, and he hasn't even decided whether to run on the GOP ticket or as an independent.
But then, a quixotic campaign for president is completely in character for a man who is considered the "father of affirmative action."
Mr. Fletcher, 70, in Seattle recently to speak to a business conference, offered unvarnished glimpses into his political assessments:
* On Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, California Gov. Pete Wilson and conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan, all Republicans who are running, or are expected to run, for president next year:
"I call them the David Duke wing of the Republican Party. They have no problem using racist tactics to achieve political returns." Mr. Duke, who ran for governor of Louisiana, is a former Ku Klux Klan leader.
* Of political candidate-turned radio talk-show host Oliver North: "He is fueling the lunatic fringe" -- the same people, Mr. Fletcher said, who might build bombs and blow up government buildings.
* Of suggestions he has no chance of winning the presidency: a hearty laugh and quick denial.
Mr. Fletcher, a former Pasco, Wash., city councilman, was the first African-American to seek statewide office in Washington. He barely lost that 1968 race for lieutenant governor, blaming a racist smear campaign against him.
He was appointed by President Richard M. Nixon as an assistant labor secretary, was an adviser to Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan, and in 1990 was named head of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by President George Bush. Mr. Fletcher still serves on that commission.
While working under Mr. Nixon, Mr. Fletcher was the architect of the first federal affirmative-action order, and he has spent the past 27 years of his life defending it.
Mr. Fletcher said he expects to announce his candidacy by June 1, but is already interviewing for his campaign staff. And he has launched his "Send Five and Keep it Alive" fund-raising effort, asking supporters to send him $5 and scribble advice on whether he should run as a Republican or as an independent.
The advantage of an independent candidacy is that he wouldn't be eliminated in a grueling Republican primary, said Mr. Fletcher.
He is angry at what he calls efforts by some Republican contenders to attack affirmative action and interject racism into the campaign.
In 1991, the Civil Rights Commission, which Mr. Fletcher headed, HTC asked President Bush, congressional leaders and governors to keep racial attacks out of the 1992 campaign.
Mr. Fletcher said the letter fell on mostly deaf ears. He plans to resubmit it this year.
Already he is troubled not only by attacks on affirmative action but by efforts by some Republicans to use racially charged buzzwords when talking about welfare, housing and school dropouts.
"There are those who insist all of us are on welfare and don't pay taxes," Mr. Fletcher said. "But 40 percent of us own our own homes, 11 million African-Americans are in the work force. We buy clothes, buy food and pay taxes with our African-American ** checks.
"I want race as an issue out of the campaign. We can't deny the existence of race, but we can point out the abuse of it."
Never in recent years has affirmative action come under such attack, both in Congress and in states. Affirmative action opponents in California are trying to place an initiative on the 1996 ballot in that state.
In February, Mr. Fletcher came to the state at the request of Rep. Dawn Mason, a Seattle Democrat, to help fight an anti-affirmative action bill sponsored by a Republican state representative. He spoke to community and church groups, as well as legislators. The bill eventually died in committee.
Nat Jackson, a former assistant to Gov. Dan Evans and a Republican precinct committeeman from Olympia, is heading Mr. Fletcher's state organization.
"This is the stuff Dr. King gave his life for," said Mr. Jackson. "We can't go backwards."
Susan Gilmore wrote this article for the Seattle Times, where it first appeared.