Orange County Register

September 26, 1997

Republicans divided on English-only initiative
SCHOOLS: Some say a party endorsement of the education measure would anger Hispanics.


California Republican leaders hoping to make inroads with Hispanic voters are trying to prevent the party from endorsing a proposed ballot measure that would place strict limits on bilingual education.

Backers of the initiative say a GOP endorsement would put the party squarely on the side of Hispanic families who want their children to learn English quickly in the public schools.
But GOP leaders, who begin a three-day convention in Anaheim today, are reluctant to plunge into another round of potentially divisive ethnic politics amid concern that the party's aggressive support for two recent ballot measures has alienated minorities.

The fight over bilingual education already is showing parallels to the 1994 campaign on Proposition 187, which targeted illegal immigrants, and the 1996 battle over Proposition 209, which ended race- and gender-based prefernces in government employment and contracting.

Both were backed by the Republican Party. And while both passed by wide margins, some party insiders have fretted that the initiatives further cemented the GOP's image as being unfriendly to African-Americans and Hispanics.

``I don't believe that this initiative is anti-Hispanic,'' said Assemblyman Curt Pringle, R-Anaheim, who opposes a party endorsement. ``I do believe that the media or the opposition can paint it as an anti-Hispanic measure. And in that regard, it's important not to identify it as a Republican issue.''

Assemblyman Tom McClintock, R-Simi Valley, disagrees. He says Republicans erred by trying to turn Propositions 187 and 209 into ``wedge issues'' to energize white voters. But with the bilingual issue, he said, the party has a chance to position itself on the side of Hispanics in a positive way.

``This is an opportunity for the Republican Party to take the high ground on a moral imperative,'' McClintock said. ``One-fifth of California children have been forced into a program that has a 95 percent failure rate and that has racially segregated our classrooms. If the Republican Party is not willing to stand up for these kids, then who will?''

The initiative, written by millionaire Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz and Santa Ana schoolteacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, would require that all California students be taught in English unless their parents request that they be instructed in their native language. The measure, called ``English for the Children'' by its authors, needs about 600,000 signatures to qualify for the June 1998 ballot.

Party Chairman Michael Schroeder, an Irvine lawyer, this week appointed a seven-member committee to consider the bilingual initiative and three others seeking to qualify for the ballot. Schroeder also is pushing a change in party rules that would require a two-thirds vote of the convention, rather than a majority, to endorse a ballot measure.

Schroeder said he wants the committee to put off endorsing the bilingual-education initiative until February, the next time the state party will gather for a convention. In the meantime, he said, he wants to pressure the Legislature to vote on a bill that would give local districts more freedom to implement English-only instruction programs.

Schroeder has concerns about the initiative's state mandate and does not like its provision setting aside $50 million a year for community-based programs to teach English to adults.

``If this were the right thing to do, I would advocate that we do it,'' Schroeder said. ``In this case, you have something that may well be very divisive and it's not at all clear it's the right solution. It may be a dumb solution to what is a very real problem.''

Tuchman said the party will miss an opportunity if it fails to endorse the measure.

``Now is the time,'' Tuchman said. ``Children cannot sit and wait for politicians or political parties to decide when the time is right, when it's politically correct.''