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State GOP Backs Bid to End Bilingual Education

Politics: Delegates endorse proposed ballot measure by voice vote at convention in Anaheim. But party leaders fear action will anger Latinos.

September 29, 1997|CATHLEEN DECKER and MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES POLITICAL WRITERS

ANAHEIM — California Republicans peered into their future Sunday, endorsing a controversial ballot proposal for the 1998 ballot that would virtually end bilingual education and getting their first glimpse at a handful of candidates dreaming of the presidential sweepstakes two years later.

The bilingual ballot measure was endorsed by a voice vote of party delegates meeting here. Party leaders had tried to table the endorsement, fearing that it would inflame Latinos already angry at the party for its support of the anti-immigration measure Proposition 187.

Just before the vote, party Chairman Mike Schroeder warned convention delegates that their endorsement of the bilingual education ban would require sensitivity.

"We have to be careful that our support for the initiative is interpreted as a concern for children and that it not be framed . . . as to bash any particular group and any particular culture," Schroeder said. "We need to proceed with this in a way that's responsible and a way that keeps us united."

Ernesto Feliciano, head of the state's leading Latino Republican group, called the endorsement "sad for the Republican Party."

"Now it's up to the Republican Party to let [the measure] stand on its own merits . . . and not use it as a wedge issue heading into the 1998 campaign."

The endorsement came after a low-key 25-minute debate that underscored the concerns within the party over its treatment of Latinos, the state's fastest-growing bloc of voters.

The Orange Unified School District is among several in California seeking to replace bilingual education with English immersion programs.

Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is leading the anti-bilingual campaign, said backers have collected two-thirds of the signatures necessary to put the measure on the June 1998 ballot.

In addition, the convention supported a call for a new election in the 46th Congressional District, where former Rep. Robert K. Dornan is contesting his defeat in 1996 by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove).

Secretary of State Bill Jones drew praise for investigating suspected voter fraud in that election as well as for his efforts to implement tougher voter registration requirements statewide.

The party also endorsed a proposed ballot measure meant to strip labor unions of the right to automatically tap members for political donations. The initiative was praised Saturday by Gov. Pete Wilson, who will act as its honorary chairman.

Only part of the weekend's agenda was devoted to state issues. Delegates also got to check out a handful of potential presidential candidates, among them Wilson, former Vice President Dan Quayle, and U.S. Sens. John Ashcroft of Missouri, John McCain of Arizona and Fred Thompson of Tennessee. Former candidate and religious broadcaster Pat Robertson also spoke Sunday.

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All of them struck familiar Republican themes, such as shrinking government, cutting taxes and bolstering the nation's families. They also poked considerable fun at the Clinton administration's fund-raising scandals, and in particular at Vice President Al Gore, whom each may hope to oppose in 2000.

Wilson scalded Gore with a trio of gibes at his Saturday address, referring first to a controversial fund-raiser at a Los Angeles County Buddhist temple.

"Our economy is at full throttle, personal income is way up," he said. "You know that when a Buddhist monk sworn to a vow of poverty can cut a $5,000 check for Al Gore."

Later, the governor said that if Gore's presidential aspirations don't pan out, "there'll always be a place for him on the television show, 'America's Dumbest Criminals.' "

Quayle and Ashcroft were the clear crowd favorites, earning standing ovations for speeches that stood out as the most substantive and well delivered of the convocation.

Quayle hammered at government abuses that he said had placed American freedoms under attack. One familiar target was the Internal Revenue Service.

"We are losing our freedom to a tax code nobody understands," Quayle said Saturday. "The only sane thing to do is just get rid of it. Start all over. By getting rid of it, we will put government back in its place."

He saved his most biting criticism for the administration that defeated him and President George Bush in 1992. In words that drew whoops from the crowd, he referred to Gore's assertion that his actions in the fund-raising scandal were legal because "no controlling legal authority" had determined otherwise.

"When it comes to the White House, there's no controlling moral authority," Quayle said. "And that's what we need. . . . Before we go passing new laws, don't you think we ought to bring to justice those who violated the current laws?"

Quayle also took up the subject of foreign policy, a distinctly presidential purview that has lost some of its campaign oomph since the end of the Cold War. It was precisely the uncertainties of the post-Cold War era that Quayle sought to plumb.

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