Los Angeles Times
Sunday, May 10, 1998
L.A. Latinos Join Forces to Save Bilingual Classes
Politics: Elected leaders, often at odds, are working together
to defeat Proposition 227. The campaign hopes to avoid mistakes made in
battles against earlier ballot measures.
By JEAN MERL, Times Staff Writer
Sometime this week, Richard G. Polanco, an influential state senator
from Los Angeles, will take a break from his budget review duties in the
Capitol and slip into a studio to record a message urging voters to reject
Proposition 227, the measure on the June 2 ballot that would virtually
end bilingual education programs in California.
is in both Spanish and English, and it is almost identical to ones being
recorded by several others in Los Angeles County's ascendant Latino caucuses
in Sacramento and Washington. Initially
slated to run on Spanish language television stations, the messages also
will be aired on English stations throughout the state--if the uphill campaign
to defeat Proposition 227 can raise enough money in the final weeks before
and behind in the polls, the anti-227 campaign is making its major stand
in Los Angeles County, the state's most populous--and home to the highest
numbers of immigrants. Its often-warring Latino elected leaders are working
in concert on this issue--starting to raise money, making commercials and
delivering stump speeches to defeat the measure.
say all the members are doing what they can on this important, complex
issue," said Rep. Esteban E. Torres (D-Pico Rivera), who also was
scheduled to make an anti-227 commercial. He
added that he expects to be speaking in the community about the issue during
visits to his district between now and election day.
leaders are part of a tightly choreographed campaign that seeks to avoid
the divisiveness and mistakes that marred the unsuccessful battles against
two earlier state ballot measures widely viewed as anti-immigrant and anti-minority,
Proposition 187 in 1994 and Proposition 209 two years later.
campaign in various ways resembles the effort to stop Proposition 209,
the anti-affirmative action initiative.
far lack the money for a major media blitz. They are fighting a proposal
that is popular with a cross-section of voters. And they are turning to
grass-roots organizers and the activist establishment to spread the word
that 227 is a bad idea.
from the statewide campaign organization, dubbed "Citizens for an
Educated America, No on 227," a local coalition of labor, education
and civil rights groups has targeted 250 precincts in Los Angeles County
for a get-out-the-vote drive with phone banks and precinct walks. The precinct
choices were based on voting patterns on Proposition 187, which sought
to cut most public services for illegal immigrants and on Proposition 209,
which outlawed affirmative action programs in state hiring, contracting
and university admissions.
Added to that
drive is a steady drumbeat of community forums, teach-ins, speeches and,
starting this weekend, parades, candlelight vigils and rallies. Everything
is carefully coordinated with the statewide campaign run by veteran Democratic
consultant Richard Ross of Sacramento.
being strategic and smart and trying to maximize our resources as much
as possible," said Martha Arevalo of the Los Angeles office of the
California Latino Civil Rights Network, which is coordinating the grass-roots
certainly learned from our past mistakes and experiences," Arevalo
said, referring to the unsuccessful campaigns to defeat the earlier ballot
measures. "This time we are unified. We are collaborative."
is to defeat an initiative, written and financed by Silicon Valley businessman
Ron Unz, that taps into widespread dissatisfaction with the public schools'
method of choice for teaching the 1.4 million students who speak little
or no English. Instead of instructing these students in their native tongues
for up to several years until they become proficient enough in English
to hold their own in regular classrooms, Proposition 227 would end most
bilingual education programs. It calls for students to be given up to one
school year of intensive English lessons, after which they would be transferred
to English-only classrooms.
Effort to Counter Prop. 227's Support
poll taken a month ago showed that the measure had strong support among
registered voters and was favored even by a slim majority of Latino voters.
But campaign leaders and several outside political observers say they have
seen evidence that Latino voters are turning against Proposition 227 as
the campaign heats up, and they believe that the overall 65%-24% margin
has narrowed since the poll was conducted.
But the local
No on 227 campaign has some important things going for it. They include
help from organized labor, United Teachers-Los Angeles and other education,
civic and business groups, increasing numbers of new-citizen voters who
are likely to be sympathetic, a large number of local Latinos on the ballot
in key election contests, and the growing influence of the region's representatives
is still time, and if they can get the media, they can turn it around,"
Los Angeles political consultant Leo Briones said of the campaign in this
county, home to one-quarter of California's registered voters.
Los Angeles is a critical county," Briones added, noting that most
of the state's newest Latino voters live here. "The higher the turnout
here, the better for the forces against 227."
major unions have agreed to carry anti-227 messages in their mail, telephone
and door-to-door battles to defeat Proposition 226, which is taking most
of organized labor's political resources this spring. That initiative,
also on the June 2 ballot, would require unions to get members' permission
before spending dues on political campaigns. United Teachers-Los Angeles
last week loaned its new headquarters to anti-227 volunteers for telephone
bank training and hosted a campaign update meeting between state and local
the union, whose members narrowly voted to oppose Proposition 227, has
mounted a campaign--through talks at schools and through its 40,000-distribution
newsletter--that aims to reach teachers leaning toward voting yes.
now emphasizing to those teachers who are on the fence that all of them
will be affected if children who are not yet ready to learn in English
are put into their classrooms," said UTLA communications director
Protesting 'One Size Fits All' Mandate
It is one
variation of a message that the No on 227 campaign is striving to get across:
that the solution proposed by Unz--a wealthy white man who says he never
set foot in a bilingual classroom before launching his initiative drive--is
too draconian, a "one size fits all" state mandate that would
strip local schools of their authority to decide what's best for their
They say its
one-year limit on special instruction before transfer to English-only classrooms
is a prescription for failure that ultimately would hurt the schools' ability
to turn out able, productive citizens. They
also argue that students of different ages should not be mixed together
when learning English.
The No on 227
campaign also zeros in on the $50 million a year the measure would appropriate
for tutoring children in English.
proponents, calling their campaign English for the Children, say that bilingual
education classes keep English-learners out of the mainstream for far too
long, thus dooming them to a life as second-class citizens.
What the campaign
does not do is defend the status quo: "DO NOT get into a discussion
defending bilingual education," suggests a tip sheet for anti-227
to the efforts of a well-placed local legislator, the anti-227 leaders
have an alternative for those Californians fed up with the schools' progress
in helping immigrant children become proficient in English.
Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) recently pushed through legislation
aimed at taking the steam out of the Unz measure by offering an alternative
that would overhaul the bilingual education system and require testing
and other accountability while giving local districts and parents more
Pete Wilson, who has said he was leaning toward supporting Proposition
227, might veto the Legislature's alternative, which he criticized for
its 11th-hour passage.
said the bill signals that legislators are recognizing the need for reform
and are willing to do something about it.
people can disagree about whether bilingual education is 'broken,' but
the perception is that it is broken," Villaraigosa said. "The
Legislature had been defending the status quo, and I think it will help
us that now we have been willing to try a flexible, well thought out approach
instead of the meat-ax approach" of Proposition 227.
Angeles Democrat, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, said the legislation, coupled
with other efforts to turn voters against Proposition 227, could be crucial.
it may be the bump that we need," said Cedillo, a former labor organizer
who has joined Villaraigosa and Polanco in a last-ditch fund-raising drive
to defeat the ballot measure.
State Sen. Hilda
Solis (D-El Monte) said she has been gratified by the high level of interest
in the campaign she sees in her district, which runs from Los Angeles'
Eastside into the San Gabriel Valley.
school districts, civic groups, churches coming out against [Proposition
227]. I see the Asian community coming out in strong opposition. People
feel that we are under attack again, and this time it is stronger because
it involves the schools. . . . People feel there is more personally at
stake for them" than in either of the two previous measures, Solis
A recent community
meeting on the measure that she attended at Roosevelt High School on the
Eastside drew more than 1,000 people. And, she added, she now is seeing
even the poorest immigrants opening their wallets.
isn't a lot of money available to get the [No on 227] message out,"
Solis said. "It helps a lot that everybody is unified."
Times staff writer Bettina Boxall contributed to this story.