Los Angeles Times

Friday, June 5, 1998

O.C.'s Latino Precincts Voted Strongly Against Proposition 227
By NANCY CLEELAND, Times Staff Writer

Voters in predominantly Latino precincts in Orange County overwhelmingly opposed Proposition 227, the anti-bilingual education initiative, according to a computer-assisted analysis of the vote by The Times.
      The proposition failed in two dozen precincts where Latinos accounted for at least half of the registered voters, primarily in Santa Ana. In several precincts, the "no" vote in Tuesday's primary election topped 70%.
      That contrasts sharply with the county's overall vote, which favored the "English for the Children" initiative by 71%.
      The Times analysis, which examined results from 137 precincts in the central county, showed clearly that as the share of Latino voters increased, so did opposition to the measure.
      Similar results were found in a Times exit poll of voters throughout the state and in an analysis by the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project. The exit poll found that Latino voters rejected the measure by a 2-to-1 ratio, and the Southwest Voter analysis, released Thursday, estimated that 64% of Latino voters statewide were against it.
      "If there had been more Latinos voting, it wouldn't have passed," said Gil Flores of Santa Ana, who is state president of the League of United Latin American Citizens. "But with the low percentage [of registered Latino voters], we couldn't win it by ourselves." About 9% of registered voters in Orange County have Latino surnames.
      The precinct analysis does not take into account the vote from absentee ballots, which were strongly promoted by Latino organizations opposed to Proposition 227. And the proportion of Latinos among those who actually voted in the precincts won't be known for several more weeks.
      The measure requires students to be taught completely in English after a year or less of remedial classes.
      Opponents said some Latinos voted against the measure because they have children in bilingual classes who would be affected by the change. But they said there were other reasons for the strong Latino no-vote too.
      For one, Latino voters were targeted by the anti-227 campaign through direct mail, phone calls and advertisements on Spanish-language television and radio. "We started educating people, explaining what it would mean to their children," said Alberto Ortega, who organized the Orange County No on 227 campaign. "Once we delivered our message, people changed their minds right away."
      For months, Ortega and a crew of volunteers set up information tables at festivals, made presentations to parents of bilingual students and sent out thousands of fliers.
      "We called every single Latino registered to vote in Santa Ana," he said. "One of our goals was to educate Latinos and increase their participation, and I'm glad to see that happened. This is going to be a long, long process. We cannot turn things around overnight."
      Manuel Gomez, vice chancellor of student services at UC Irvine, said Latinos also better understood the implications of doing away with bilingual education than most voters.
      "We who have lived through this know that immersion doesn't work," he said. "Latinos actually understood that this sink-or-swim philosophy was cruel and unrealistic for their children, who would be most directly affected.
      "The question is what is the best method to teach children English, and that was lost in the noise of the campaign," he said.
      Latino community leaders, who were almost unanimous in their opposition to the initiative, said they had expected Latino voters to reject it.
      "In my circle of friends, we were solidly against 227," said Amin David, director of Los Amigos, a Latino advocacy group. "But I do think some Latinos were swayed by the question, 'Do you want your children to learn English?' Of course, that's what we all want."
      Some of 227's strongest backers in Orange County were Latino educators, and they said many parents of students with limited English skills were in favor of the change.
      "The majority of Latino parents definitely want this for their children," said Rosemarie Avila, a Santa Ana Unified school board member. "They actually get surprised when they find out their kids are learning in Spanish for so long."