Similar ballot initiatives, same backer.
But Massachusetts voters said “hola” Tuesday to Question 2 while Colorado voters said “adios” to Amendment 31.
It was an unexpected outcome for the initiatives, which both required English learners to spend no more than a year in intensive English courses before moving to mainstream classrooms.
That’s because the initiatives – versions of which have already been successful in California and Arizona thanks to financial backing from businessman Ron Unz – are generally more popular with conservatives than liberals.
Yet in Massachusetts, a historically liberal state, Question 2 passed by 70 percent – one of the biggest landslides ever seen in an initiative race in that state.
In Colorado, a traditionally conservative state that made English its official language in 1988, Amendment 31 failed – 56 percent to 44 percent.
Opponents and proponents in Colorado and Massachusetts alike agreed money was a factor.
In Colorado, opponents got more than $3 million from medical equipment heiress Pat Stryker – one of the biggest individual donations in the state’s history.
No other campaign in either state raised even $1 million.
Much of Stryker’s money went into an advertising blitz that ignored the initiative’s main goal of virtually eliminating bilingual education that calls for instruction in a child’s native tongue.
Instead, it attacked the initiative as too costly, too punitive and too restrictive.
“From a purely political perspective, I thought the anti-31 campaign was the best political campaign of the season, better than the candidates’ campaigns,” said Norman Provizer, a political science professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver. “Here was an issue that started off with enormously high numbers in support of the amendment. Something eroded that support.
“I can talk about it as a negative campaign and a campaign of attack ads but it was very effective in eroding that support.”
Other factors might have been opposition from Gov. Bill Owens in Colorado and a smaller Hispanic population in Massachusetts, Provizer said.
Most Hispanic voters opposed the amendment in both states.
Colorado opponent Gully Stanford downplayed the role of the $3 million, noting other initiatives have failed despite well-funded “yes” sides.
“I think we can thank our strong tradition of local control,” he said.
Stryker said through her spokesman Wednesday that Colorado voters deserve the credit “for preserving choice for families throughout the state.”
“This campaign has always been about freedom of educational choice for parents and their children, and the freedom to make local decisions about education,” she said.
Unz said all but one of Colorado’s five proposed constitutional amendments failed.
“Sometimes,” he said, “there’s a pattern. Some years most initiatives win, other years, most initiatives lose. Who knows what the factors are.”