Sacramento Bee

Wednesday, March 11, 1998

President Expected To Oppose Prop. 227: But No Commitment Yet, Lawmaker Says
By HERBERT A. SAMPLE, Bee Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa said Tuesday that he expects the Clinton administration to publicly oppose Proposition 227, the June ballot initiative that would virtually eliminate bilingual education in California.

Villaraigosa, who was in Washington with several other California legislators on their annual trip to the nation's capital, said he has not received a commitment from administration officials.

But President Clinton's view of bilingual education "is similar to my own, and that is, 'mend it, don't end it,' " said Villaraigosa, D-Los Angeles. "It is ludicrous to throw the baby out with the bath water."

The legislative contingent met privately Monday with Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and other top White House officials.

An administration official who did not want to be identified said Clinton has not decided what course to take on the proposition.

But the administration, through the Department of Education, is generally reviewing bilingual education with an eye toward proposing changes within the next several weeks on how such programs are devised and assessed, the official said. A position on Proposition 227 could be announced then.

Both Villaraigosa and state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, oppose the initiative. But neither believes that Clinton's opposition, if it materializes, will have much impact on voters.

"It matters in that it shows a moral something on the part of the White House," Burton said. "But (when) you get into something like this, it doesn't matter."

Clinton criticized Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot measure that barred undocumented immigrants from receiving certain government benefits, and Proposition 209, a 1996 initiative that ended state affirmative-action programs for minorities and women. Both passed.

On another matter, Villaraigosa said he believes the real contest for the Democratic nomination for governor is between businessman Al Checchi and Rep. Jane Harman, D-Marina del Rey. Lt. Gov. Gray Davis does not have enough money to compete, he said.

"Resources are critical to campaigns," said Villaraigosa, who has endorsed Checchi. "I think it's going to be difficult for Gray to put the resources together." Harman and Checchi are putting substantial sums of their own money into their campaigns.

Burton, who is not endorsing any of the three, analyzed the race this way: "Two are rich and one ain't."

Almost 50 state lawmakers are in Washington to discuss policy issues with members of Congress and administration officials, focusing mainly on health care, education, transportation and trade.