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Initiative Seeks to Make English Official State Language : Campaign Finance Reform Measure Misses, but Toxics Crackdown Could Win a Spot on Ballot

June 26, 1986|JERRY GILLAM | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — California voters will be asked to decide at the Nov. 4 election if English should be declared the official state language, but an attempt to bring reform of legislators' campaign finances to a vote failed to qualify for the same ballot, state officials said Wednesday.

And an initiative to get tougher on toxic polluters, which Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Bradley plans to use as a key issue in his campaign against Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, looked like it would qualify today for a November ballot spot, officials said, although the measure was a "cliffhanger" all the way.

The English language measure would require the Legislature and state officials "to ensure that the role of English as the common language of the state of California is preserved and enhanced."

Any resident could sue the state if he thought this was not being done.

Though the measure does not set out precisely where English would be mandatory, opponents claim it could mean elimination of bilingual education, bilingual election ballots and of California driver's license handbooks written in such languages as Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Spanish.

Proponents, led by former Republican U.S. Sen. S. I. Hayakawa of California, gathered 815,521 signatures of registered voters, according to a random sampling of the more than a million names turned in. They needed only 630,136.

Hayakawa was the backer of a successful 1984 ballot initiative that required the governor to write a letter urging Congress to overturn a law providing for bilingual election materials in counties with a high non-English-speaking population, a large number of unregistered voters, and a high illiteracy rate. The California initiative passed by a 70.5%-29.5% margin, but Congress did not vote to overturn the bilingual law.

The campaign finance proposal, sponsored by a blue-ribbon citizens group, called for limiting state legislators' campaign contributions and expenditures, prohibiting contributions during non-election years, banning the transfer of political funds from one legislator to another, and instituting partial taxpayer financing of legislative campaigns.

Secretary of State March Fong Eu said the measure did not achieve the 393,835 valid signatures required to qualify for a spot on the Nov. 4 ballot. She based this on a random sampling of more than 630,000 signatures submitted.

But Eu said it could appear on the June, 1988, ballot if a full count later of signatures shows that it has the backing of enough registered voters.

One proponent, Walter Zelman of Common Cause, a political reform group, said, "We haven't given up yet. We're looking into the possibility that some of the counties could be way off because of the incredibly low figures they turned in."

Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) has a similar but watered-down legislative campaign finance bill awaiting a lower house floor vote.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature approved a campaign finance reform package in 1984, but Deukmejian vetoed it because he objected to including partial public financing. The voters also turned down a campaign finance ballot initiative that same year.

The toxics control initiative, sponsored by Democratic lawmakers, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, would prohibit businesses from discharging chemicals that cause cancer or birth defects into drinking water supplies, require advance warning of the presence of such chemicals in drinking water and food supplies and increase penalties for violations of state toxics laws.

"It looks like it is going to qualify after all," Caren Daniels-Meade of the secretary of state's office said Wednesday. "But it is a real cliffhanger."

The deadline is tonight for random sampling to determine if the 393,835 valid signatures needed to qualify the toxic initiative were submitted. At least 686,625 names were turned in.

Bradley Campaign

Los Angeles Mayor Bradley is expected to use that initiative to help focus on what he and other Democrats charge is Deukmejian's lackluster response to the toxics waste problem, continuing a strategy that Bradley began in his television and radio commercials before the June primary election.

Eu's office also announced that another initiative to prohibit legislation limiting how much patients can recover from medical malpractice lawsuits had failed to qualify by the random sampling method. It was sponsored by Russell Kussman of Los Angeles.

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