SACRAMENTO — It was another interview in a Capitol hallway for Sen.
Dede Alpert, a veteran Democrat from Coronado whose bill on bilingual education had just cleared a committee last week.

But this time the questions came from a new presence at the Capitol —
the Sacramento correspondent for a Spanish-language television network.
Though Alpert would wince afterward about a grammatical mistake or two,
she replied in fluent Spanish during the interview by Xochitl Arellano,
who has been covering the Capitol for Univision since last summer.

Alpert’s remarks were broadcast later by Channel 19 (KBNT), a Spanish-language television station in San Diego. Its 6 p.m. newscast, fluctuating in the ratings, has on occasion drawn a larger audience among adults ages 18 to 49 than any of its three English-language competitors in that time slot.

“We were expecting to take the lead in 1999 or 2000, but the moment came last November when the newscast was about 6 months old,” said Hector Molina, the Channel 19 station manager.

The growing Spanish-language broadcast media in California is becoming an important political battleground, mainly because the rapidly growing Latino population is beginning to vote in greater numbers.

This is the first time Spanish-language television ads have been used extensively in California in races for governor and a U.S. Senate seat.
Three wealthy candidates, who are all funding their own races, want to win the votes of Latinos.

Al Checchi, a Democrat running for governor, has put 15 percent of the
$14 million he has spent on television ads so far into Spanish-language ads, some featuring a message spoken by his wife, Kathy. He has aired both positive biographical spots and attacks on Jane Harman, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

“They (Latinos) are going to make up a large percentage of the final vote, maybe 12 to 14 percent, and that can make the difference in an , particularly in California.

“Nielsen’s research shows Hispanics have actually moved from English-language television to Spanish-language television, not the other way around,”
said Corley.

Unlike the statewide candidates, Unz is not looking to Latinos for the winning margin at this point. A statewide Field Poll last month showed that the initiative is supported by 70 percent of likely voters, including 61 percent of Latino voters. But he wants to ensure strong support from Latinos because most of the 1.4 million children in California schools who speak limited English are Latinos.

“We want to win a very strong mandate among California’s Hispanics,”
said Unz.

The initiative would eliminate most bilingual programs that teach children in their native language for up to seven years, replacing them with a crash course in English normally lasting about a year.

“If the other side had a $10 million campaign against us, they would really have a shot at beating us,” said Unz.

But he expects the opposition campaign, Citizens for an Educated America,
to spend about $2 million. The resources of the California Teachers Association are tied up in an all-out battle against another initiative, Proposition 226, that would require unions to get permission from members before spending union dues on political campaigns.

Richie Ross, a consultant for the opponents of Proposition 227, said the campaign will have enough money to “get the message out there.”
He said he was not surprised by Unz’s plan to use Spanish-language ads.

“I think he is overconfident of winning, and at this point wants to make sure he is not labeled as having motivations that speak to racial issues,” said Ross.

Despite their increasing importance in political campaigns, Spanish-language television stations still have only a small share of television viewers.

Channel 19, the only Spanish-language station located in San Diego, got about 4 percent of the viewers in the San Diego market in a Nielsen survey during a week in November. But the station said that was up from 2 percent earlier in the year.

San Diego County, where about 23 percent of the residents are Latino,
also is targeted by one or more Spanish-language television stations in Tijuana. Channel 33 (KHAS) is an outlet for Univision’s smaller rival for the U.S. Spanish-speaking audience, Telemundo.

In Los Angeles County, which is 42 percent Latino, the Univision station,
Channel 34 (KMEX), has the top-ranked newscasts at 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
A KMEX spokesman said that all three Spanish-language television stations in Los Angeles get about 13 percent of all viewers throughout the day.

Spanish-language radio stations have a slightly larger market share,
with 18 percent to 20 percent of the listeners in Los Angeles, 5 percent in San Diego and 3 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to the California Broadcasters Association.

In the view of Checchi’s campaign director, the Spanish-language broadcasts may have a relatively small market share, but they are large in importance.

“The Hispanic community is becoming a larger and larger percentage of the population in California, and even more importantly, a larger and larger percentage of Hispanics are becoming politically active and registered to vote,” said Powell.

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