Calif. bilingual-ed foe is only donor to Ariz. Group

The Silicon Valley millionaire who led California’s successful proposition to ban bilingual education is the only person to donate to an Arizona group that is trying to pass a similar measure here.

Ron Unz, the author of California’s Proposition 227, so far has reported $51,000 in contributions to English for the Children-Arizona, a Tucson-based citizens initiative. The group is collecting signatures for a Nov. 7 ballot measure to eliminate bilingual education and force all 139,000 limited-English students to learn in yearlong English immersion classes.

Unz paid for almost the entire California campaign, donating about $800,000, he said.

Bilingual education supporters say this shows that an outsider is imposing the measure on Arizona.

“I think it makes it very clear that the whole thing is orchestrated by Ron Unz,” said Sal Gabaldon, Southern Arizona co-chairman of Arizona Language Education Council and a bilingual education curriculum specialist in Tucson Unified School District.

The English for the Children-Arizona treasurer denies that. Margaret Garcia Dugan, principal of Glendale High School in Glendale, said members sought Unz’s help in organizing the ballot measure after Proposition 227 passed in 1998.

“He’s a very caring person and wants to help out in any way he can. So, we’ re taking advantage of that kindness,” Dugan said.

Unz, an unsuccessful candidate for California governor who has backed campaign reform proposals, said he is merely giving Arizonans the chance to vote on the matter. He has tried unsuccessfully to persuade Arizona business people and political donors to contribute to the group. So Unz is willing to put up as much money as necessary.

“I hope I don’t have to,”Unz said. “Here is a very important issue in Arizona that a lot of people care about. … If I have to be the one who has to establish democracy in Arizona, maybe I will.”

Most of the contribution — about $45,000 — is going to a Tempe firm to circulate petitions. Unz has also paid for the printing of petitions, according to documents filed with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. The group must collect 101,762 signatures by July 6.

Before the initiative was filed in January 1999, Unz also contributed a fax machine, copier and other campaign materials, such as bumper stickers and T-shirts.

Reporter Sarah Tully Tapia can be reached at 573-4117 or e-mail [email protected]

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