SACRAMENTO — The opponents of an anti-bilingual education initiative on the June 2 ballot are mounting a surprisingly large television campaign,
thanks to aid from the leading Spanish-language network.
The majority shareholder of Univision, Jerry Perenchio, made a key contribution of $1.5 million that triggered a smaller match from the California Teachers Association, said Richie Ross, campaign consultant for No on Proposition 227.
Ross said the campaign against the initiative has purchased $2.7 million worth of time on television stations throughout the state for ads in English and Spanish, including spots on the lead-in to the final episode of “Seinfeld”
on television stations in San Diego and Sacramento last week.
A new wave of television ads beginning next week will feature the opposition to Proposition 227 from all four leading gubernatorial candidates: Democrats Al Checchi, Gray Davis and Jane Harman and Republican Dan Lungren.
The television ads will not mention that Proposition 227 was endorsed this week by Gov. Pete Wilson. Ross said the ad will feature Lungren, who is expected to easily win the GOP nomination for governor, because he is potentially the future leader of the state.
“I don’t think there is any point in trying to go back and vilify the governor,” said Ross. “I’m trying to talk to voters and appeal to rationality.”
The initiative sponsor, businessman Ron Unz, called Wilson’s endorsement
“unfortunate.” Unz feared that Wilson’s association with previous initiatives against illegal immigration and affirmative action would be used to turn Latinos against his measure.
Unz complained yesterday that Univision is airing editorials urging viewers to vote against Proposition 227. Univision owns Spanish-language television stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and Fresno and has an affiliate in San Diego.
“It seems to me there might be a very clear financial interest,”
said Unz. “It seems to me if Latinos learn English, maybe it will hurt his (Perenchio’s) stock price.”
Unz said the Univision editorials against Proposition 227 would be the equivalent of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox television network running editorials against Proposition 226, an initiative requiring unions to get permission from members before spending dues on political campaigns.
“I think that would be alarming to most people,” said Unz.
Anne Corley, a Univision spokeswoman, said that editorials opposing Proposition 227 have been running on Univision television stations since May 4. The editorials are comments by opponents of the initiative, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina and Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa,
Corley said Univision is running the editorials because Proposition 227 is bad policy for schoolchildren, not because the network is trying to preserve a Spanish-speaking market.
“We don’t feel threatened that people are gradually going to learn English and stop watching Univision,” said Corley. “People who speak English still watch Univision. The deciding factor is not language.
Proposition 227 would eliminate most bilingual public education programs,
which teach students who speak limited English in their native language for up to seven years. The initiative would require that the students take a quick course in English normally lasting a year, unless they obtain a waiver.
A statewide Field Poll conducted late last month found that Proposition 227 is supported by 71 percent of all likely voters and 58 percent of likely Latino voters. But the survey was taken before the opposition began its television campaign.
“I guarantee 80 percent of the Latino community is going to vote no on 227,” said Ross. Unz launched his initiative after Latino parents boycotted a Los Angeles school, complaining that their children were not being taught in English.
Unz has worked to maintain Latino support. He appointed a Latina co-chair,
Gloria Matta Tuchman, and the honorary campaign chairman is Jaime Escalante,
whose ability to teach calculus to inner-city youth was portrayed in the movie “Stand and Deliver.”
“They (the opponents) might win the Latino vote,” said Unz.
“If you spend a lot of money, you can do an awful lot. I don’t think they are going to hit 80 percent.”
The campaign for Proposition 227 will get a boost today when Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan begins spending $250,000 of his own money to run Spanish-language television ads in support of the measure. The ads feature his daughter,
Mary Beth Farrell, who speaks fluent Spanish.
“I strongly believe that bilingual education is not giving Latino kids the tools to get quality jobs in life,” Riordan said in an interview.
“I think it’s a total, complete disaster.”
Riordan, who announced his support of the initiative last month, will run the ads on Spanish-language stations in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento and Fresno. The Yes on Proposition 227 campaign plans to begin running its own English-language television ads in Los Angeles this week, but it will be a small buy.
“Mayor Riordan is very likely going to be spending more money than we will,” said Sherry Annis, spokeswoman for the Yes on Proposition 227 campaign.
The campaign for the initiative began running Spanish-language radio ads two weeks ago and added English-language radio ads in Los Angeles this week.
Ross said the opponents, who are also running radio ads, began airing Spanish-language television ads on May 8 and added ads on English-language television stations last week. He said the “Seinfeld” ads were a low-cost opportunity that opened at the last minute.
“We have always felt that we were very long odds to win,” said Ross, “and therefore it was important to keep our mouth shut about our funds and try to steal some days where we could be on the air and they weren’t.”
The campaigns are not required to file their next campaign contribution report until today. Ross said the No on Proposition 227 campaign report will show contributions totaling about $3.3 million, including the $1.5 million from Perenchio.
The California Teachers Association had previously given the campaign
$350,000, with a pledge of a one-to-one match of contributions from others until the total CTA contribution reached $1 million.