Los Angeles Times
Friday, November 7, 1997
Checchi Unveils His Bilingual Education Plan
Politics: The multimillionaire running for governor says he
opposes abolishing the program entirely. Instead, he would start with children
By CATHLEEN DECKER, Times Political Writer
Fleshing out his nascent campaign for governor, Democrat Al Checchi
said he would oppose a proposed initiative to dismantle bilingual education
and favors instead his own plan to make most schoolchildren fluent in English
by first grade.
He also unveiled a multi-pronged plan to
eradicate street gangs, whose elimination Checchi said is essential to
further reductions in violent crime.
The 48-year-old former chairman of Northwest
Airlines, in a Wednesday night interview with The Times, said he will finance
most of his campaign out of his personal fortune, conservatively estimated
at $550 million. Earlier, his campaign had held out the option of raising
money from others.
Checchi is the first of the major candidates
running or considering entering the 1998 governor's race to take a position
on the bilingual initiative, which is being financed largely by Silicon
Valley computer magnate Ron Unz.
Checchi was careful to endorse the view of
initiative supporters that bilingual education has failed California students.
But rather than virtually ending bilingual education and immersing students
in English, as the initiative would, Checchi said he favors intensive language
schooling of 3- and 4-year-olds who do not speak English.
As they move from preschool to elementary
school, students could spend a maximum of two years in transition to full
English classes. Separate provisions would be made for students who are
older when they arrive in California schools, he said.
"The objective, as clearly as possible,
is to have every man, woman and child speak, read and understand English
as soon as possible," he said.
The other announced Democratic candidate
for governor, Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, also spoke in an interview with The
Times of his dissatisfaction with the bilingual education system but has
not taken a formal position on the initiative, which backers are hoping
to qualify for the June 1998 ballot. Davis said students should be moved
into English-only classes within three years.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who some advisors
believe is leaning toward a gubernatorial bid, has not taken a position
on the bilingual initiative. Her spokeswoman, Susan Kennedy, said that
Feinstein, too, believes that the system is failing and is looking at alternatives.
The only announced Republican candidate for
governor, Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, is also on the fence. Spokesman Dave
Puglia said that Lungren is concerned that the initiative may not allow
sufficient flexibility for local schools, but he also considers the current
system a failure.
Checchi, who is making his first bid for
public office, has registered at the bottom of voter preference polls.
He is expected to soon begin running television ads that will introduce
him to Californians and, he hopes, boost his public standing.
Aides to Davis have suggested that Checchi's
plan to spend freely for next June's primary will backfire among voters
tired of expensive and nasty campaigns. Checchi, however, tried to turn
his bankroll into an advantage by asserting that his self-financed campaign
will be incorruptible.
"I will conduct a campaign free of the
entanglement of special interests," he said.
Although he will undoubtedly exceed the $6-million
voluntary spending cap set by the 1996 campaign reform initiative, Proposition
208--which is still being litigated--Checchi says he believes that voters
"What voters in California voted for
was a curtailment of special interest money," he said. "I don't
think Californians care a whit about someone spending his own money. I'm
not going to corrupt myself."
Checchi also vowed to steer clear of the
mudslinging that has marked many California races, saying he will avoid
"petty personal smears." He has, however, promised to retaliate
if any opponents attack him or his family in a fashion he sees as unfair.
His proposal to reduce street gangs is essentially
an elaboration of his gubernatorial announcement speech in September, when
he vowed to use anti-racketeering laws to help corral gang members.
In the interview, he said that he also wants
to expand the use of injunctions to bar gang members from congregating
in specific areas, as has been effective for some police departments.
He added that the state should help finance
broad expansions of after-school and mentoring programs, early intervention
teams, anti-truancy efforts and other tactics meant to keep children in
school and away from the influence of gangs.
Those efforts, and his desires to improve
the state's schools, would undoubtedly cost large sums of money, Checchi
acknowledged. He has yet to come up with specific price tags but said he
can sell the proposals to Californians.
"I believe that these programs are massively
effective, and I think I can make a persuasive argument that the long-term
effect vastly exceeds the costs," he said. "Happily, we are moving
into a period of some surplus for the California economy . . . and there
will be more money available for public purposes."
Checchi also announced that he will be making
a series of public policy addresses meant to form the backbone of his campaign.
His first, a San Francisco address on education scheduled for Nov. 18,
will follow speeches on the same subject in recent weeks by Davis and Feinstein.
Other Checchi addresses will follow on public
safety and gun control, economic development, restructuring government
and health care.