Sacramento Bee

Sunday, June 21, 1998

Prop. 227 Win Gives Unz Clout for Next Move
But initiative author says he intends to go slowly
By PHIL GARCIA, Bee Deputy Capitol Bureau Chief

On the heels of his initiative victory in the primary election, Proposition 227 author Ron Unz says his first order of business is to take a break and not think about politics.

On the other hand, the Silicon Valley software entrepreneur acknowledges he already is contemplating what he might tackle next, now that he's derailed bilingual education in California public schools.

Unz says one of the issues he might address in a future initiative campaign is tax policy, including a look at the effects of Proposition 13, California's 20-year-old landmark anti-tax measure.

Other issues that he "has considered" are tort reform and campaign finance reform, Unz said in an interview last week.

"If I should do another initiative sometime in the future, taxes would be the most likely issue," he said. "... It's all in the very early stages."

Asked if he would be taking a direct look at Proposition 13, Unz said it "would be one of the things" to assess in a review of state tax policy. He added, "I really do believe very much in doing my homework on these issues before I do something about them."

On June 2, California voters by a roughly 2-to-1 margin approved his measure to largely do away with bilingual education and instead implement a statewide system of English-immersion instruction for limited English-proficient students.

Unz's campaign said he accomplished the feat despite being outspent by about 5-to-1 during the election campaign. Overall, the Unz campaign spent $1.2 million on the effort, including the petition signature-gathering drive, with Unz providing $690,000.

Political observers said whatever Unz decides to do in the future -- be it another ballot initiative or another run for elective political office -- he has the standing to do it in the wake of his primary victory.

Says GOP political consultant Sal Russo: "Success in an initiative gives one some entree and some opportunity, and the fact that he ran for governor does indicate that he has some interest in public office."

In 1994, Unz unsuccessfully sought the GOP gubernatorial nomination against Gov. Pete Wilson, disagreeing with Wilson over Proposition 187, the anti-illegal immigration initiative. Wilson rode that measure to re-election; Unz opposed it.

California Republican Party Chairman Mike Schroeder said it was his guess that if Unz continues to be involved in the short term, "it will be in the initiative process. I can't really see him running for Congress or the state Legislature."

Schroeder said Unz would confront a fundamental problem if he were to launch a statewide bid for elective office. "What would be his base? People who agreed with him about abolishing bilingual education, who also agree with him that Proposition 187 was a bad initiative?"

Schroeder said Unz would have to confront problems with Republican support. For instance, he said, Unz "wore as a badge of honor" the fact that Schroeder and state Attorney General Dan Lungren, the GOP gubernatorial nominee, opposed Proposition 227.

Furthermore, Schroeder said, Unz distanced himself from Wilson's endorsement of his bilingual education measure.

"In the short term, it made him appear naive and remarkably ungracious," Schroeder said of Unz's statement that Wilson's endorsement was "very unfortunate."

"I cannot remember anyone in the past becoming violently upset about a sitting governor endorsing their initiative," Schroeder added.

Unz himself said he "more than likely" will stay involved in state politics, but doesn't know whether he'd pursue elective office or launch another initiative campaign in two years.

In the immediate future, he said, he will stay involved by supporting Proposition 227 co-author Gloria Matta Tuchman of Orange County in her bid for state schools chief in the fall. "I'm not necessarily saying I will be one of her larger donors, but I'll certainly be supporting her candidacy," he said. Farther down the road, Unz is interested in looking at the issue of tax equity under Proposition 13 and "whether parts of it have become anachronistic," said Joel Kotkin of the Institute for Public Policy at Pepperdine University, among those whom Unz has queried about Proposition 13.

Kotkin said Unz is looking at how to "bring equity to the tax system, but doing so (in a way) that encourages entrepreneurial formation and wealth formation rather than incentives to just sit on assets.

"The question is whether or not we should tax income as high as we do and whether we should tax businesses as low as we do, especially on the commercial side," Kotkin said.

Unz said corporate welfare "is a very serious issue" in California, hinting that large corporations have tax advantages over newer businesses.

But he reiterated: "Proposition 13 is certainly one of the many areas of taxation policy in California. But I really do believe in doing one's homework before going forward. ... I'm not about to file another initiative."