With an eye toward wooing Latino voters, the chairman of the state Republican Party and the Legislature’s lone Latino Republican on Thursday voiced concerns about a proposed ballot initiative that would eliminate bilingual education in California.

GOP Chairman Mike Schroeder said it remains to be seen whether the party will endorse the initiative, which is being pushed by former GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron Unz and has yet to qualify for the June primary ballot.

But Schroeder said that in no way would the party use the self-titled “English for the Children” initiative as a “wedge issue” to try to gain support for GOP candidates.

“I can absolutely assure you this will not be another Proposition 209,” Schroeder said in reference to the anti-affirmative action measure that is now in effect in the state.

“The Republican Party will not be touting this as a wedge issue to try to increase support for their candidates,” Schroeder said.

Assemblyman Rod Pacheco, R-Riverside, in a conference call with Spanish-language media reporters, said “bilingual education needs to be fixed, but you don’t use a meat-cleaver approach.”

The comments came on the eve of a state Republican Party Latino summit Saturday in Los Angeles.

Gov. Pete Wilson who has been accused by Democrats and others of playing wedge politics in the debates over affirmative action and immigration, is among the party leaders scheduled to attend.

Sean Walsh, Wilson’s press secretary, said the governor “has always made a clear distinction between illegal and legal immigration” and “absolutely, fundamentally rejects” the idea that he has tried “to pit one group against another.”

At the summit, Walsh said, the governor will talk about how the Republican Party has “delivered on the promise of smaller government, lower taxes and, most important to our more recent immigrants in our Latino community, a better and more vibrant economy.”

But Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said Wilson “needs to acknowledge that there were some mistakes made in the way he ran his 1994 re-election campaign.”

Vargas added “that although he (Wilson) truly believed in the goals of Proposition 187 . . . he seriously damaged human relations in the state of California.”

Also scheduled to speak is Attorney General Dan Lungren, the presumptive GOP gubernatorial nominee in 1998.

Lungren is expected to emphasize common values the party shares with all ethnic groups, including Latinos, said Joanne Davis, Lungren campaign manager.

The summit is a key event in the GOP’s ongoing effort to mend fences with Latinos, many of whom were alienated by the party’s strong support for Propositions 209 and 187, which targeted illegal immigrants and is still tied up in the courts.

The fallout of those debates was reflected in the sharp decline in California Latino voter support for GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole last fall.

It’s against that backdrop that party leaders are keeping a distance from the Unz initiative, said GOP analyst Tony Quinn.

“There’s a concern that the Unz initiative could be read as following in the same vein as (Propositions 187) and 209 and be seen as one more emotional issue that is divisive in a racial manner,” Quinn said. “There is a desire on the part of Republicans to avoid that.”

Both Schroeder and Pacheco, who is chairman for Saturday’s summit, said they are concerned about the measure’s provisions to spend $500 million for adult English literacy over 10 years and the measure’s overall approach of “sink or swim” when it comes to classroom instruction.

On the contrary, Unz countered, the measure creates a “standard system of sheltered English immersion,” whereby limited-English-speaking children are placed in a transition period “where a little bit of Spanish is being spoken.”



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