Los Angeles Times
Tuesday, April 28, 1998
Wilson Leaning Toward Support of Unz Measure
Prop. 227: Governor says his only concern with anti-bilingual
education proposal is cost. He calls Clinton's opposition 'a political
By MAX VANZI,
Times Staff Writer
SACRAMENTO--Gov. Pete Wilson said Monday he is inclined to support Proposition
227, the June ballot initiative that would virtually end bilingual education--and
he lashed out at the Clinton administration for opposing it.
Until now, Wilson had been silent about where
he stood on the initiative sponsored by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron
Unz, but that ended with his response to a question at a wide-ranging news
"I am strongly leaning that way,"
the governor said of Proposition 227.
His only qualm, he said, is the estimated
$50-million price tag to implement the measure.
"Whether or not that outweighs the merits
of seeing to it that children gain access to opportunities . . . by becoming
fluent in English as soon as possible is a question I'll have to decide,"
The governor called the present practice
of teaching non-English-speaking children in their own language in the
early grades "one of the great misfired good intentions of our time.
. . . I think it has failed."
By contrast--and along the lines proposed
by the initiative--the governor praised the "immersion" method
of teaching English intensively and quickly. He used as an example the
way the young state of Israel taught Hebrew to its immigrants from many
"That was a judgment [Israeli leaders]
made," Wilson said. "I happen to think it was a wise one."
Likewise, he said, when it comes to learning
English, "evidently there are a number of Hispanic parents who feel
the same way."
Proposition 227 would require schoolchildren
to be taught in English; those who do not speak English would enter immersion
classes for a year. Exceptions could be made for children 10 and older,
and for students whose parents insisted they be taught in a bilingual setting.
Opponents of the initiative criticized the
governor for moving toward supporting it.
Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los
Angeles), a staunch opponent of Proposition 227 whose wife is a bilingual
teacher, said he was "chagrined but not surprised that [Wilson] is
leaning toward" the ballot measure.
The governor "has a history of supporting
wedge issues, and clearly Proposition 227 is the wedge issue of 1998."
Villaraigosa said Wilson will likely have
before him soon a legislative solution to the bilingual problem--a bill
sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Dede Alpert of Coronado. Under that
measure, the speaker said, "there would be no need" for anyone
to support the Unz initiative.
The bill, awaiting final legislative passage
in the Senate, would leave it up to local school districts to decide how
best to teach English to immigrant children.
Wilson has said before that the Legislature
should send him a bill that offers reforms to the present system. But on
Monday he said he has not taken a position on the Alpert measure because
he has not seen the latest version.
As for the Clinton administration's foray
into California's initiative politics, the Republican governor said the
Democratic president "has no business substituting his judgment for
that of the people of California."
The White House this week declared that Proposition
227's supporters are basing their arguments on poor data. The Clinton administration
says changes are necessary in bilingual education but called the initiative's
one-year English immersion method a "major mistake."
Replied Wilson: "I really do not think
we need the assistance of bureaucrats or elected officials from inside
the Beltway to tell Californians how to vote." The governor described
the White House statement as "a political gesture."
It's up to Californians to make a decision
on Proposition 227, Wilson said, "and I think they will make it very
Times staff writer Dan Morain contributed
to this report.