SAN MATEO COUNTY—With an initiative ending bilingual education clearly headed for the statewide ballot, the question arises whether San Mateo County Supervisor Ruben Barrales has tied his future to a rising tide or a sinking stone.
Barrales is one of the top Hispanic Republican officeholders in California, a revealing measure of how little Hispanics currently identify with the GOP.
He is hoping to parlay his distinctive status into the GOP nomination for state treasurer in the belief that he will be a vehicle by which Republicans can demonstrate their eagerness to include Latinos in their ranks.
Barrales says he has received significant, although private, encouragement from some of the state’s top Republicans, many of whom feel ensnared by the politics of Governor Pete Wilson.
Wilson’s prominent support for an end to affirmative action and the anti-immigrant sentiment of Proposition 187 tore a huge gap in the party’s Latino support, these top party officials believe.
A CONTESTABLE VOTE: According to Mark DiCamillo, managing editor of the statewide Field Poll, Republican support among Hispanics has suffered immensely in the years Wilson put forth what Barrales calls ”the two strikes.”
The state’s Hispanic voters ”used to be a contestable vote” that could go to either party, DiCamillo said.
”In the last two elections, it’s been decidedly a Democratic vote, and it just depends on how large a margin,” he said.
When Wilson ran for governor in 1990, he got roughly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. In 1994, after 187 and the affirmative action initiatives, Wilson got 25 percent, DiCamillo said.
In a Field Poll conducted in August, a matchup among would-be nominees for governor showed Hispanic voters favoring Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein over Republican Attorney General Dan Lungren by a ratio of 53 percent to 30 percent.
”A lot of the stigma Latinos had about (Proposition) 187 they tied directly to Pete Wilson,” said DiCamillo. ”It’s possible that Republicans could make overtures to bring back the Latino vote.”
A SYMBOLIC GESTURE: Barrales certainly is hoping that one of those symbolic overtures would be putting him on a ticket composed largely of white male candidates.
But just as Barrales’ hopes appeared on their way to realization — and the GOP leadership appeared to realize that something needs to be done — the state party convention endorsed a ballot initiative by businessman Ron Unz seeking to end bilingual education in California’s public schools, replacing it with English-intensive instruction.
Barrales said he might support the initiative, although he has yet to take a position on it.
”Proponents of this measure truly believe this is in the best interests of Latino children, and the Latino community in California is supportive of this approach to education,” Barrales said.
”So the question is whether it’s good policy and good politics.”
Barrales said he supports making changes to bilingual education, giving parents and local districts the choice of immersing their children in an English-only learning environment.
Barrales was a student at Garfield School in the Redwood City Elementary School District when his teacher came to his house ”to tell my parents to speak English to us if they wanted their children to succeed. From then on, the rule was English only in the house.”
Barrales said he has ”no doubt” the Unz initiative will be portrayed as a third assault on Hispanics by the GOP.
That leaves Barrales in the middle, not a good place to be, according to one prominent Democratic political consultant who is researching the extent to which the Republicans have alienated Hispanics.
”For Hispanics right now, Republicanism is kind of like McCarthyism,” said consultant Richie Ross.
The disaffection Hispanics feel toward Republicans is probably in place for a generation, Ross said.
”Basically, the Republicans and Wilson and that whole crowd have said to a group of people, ‘We don’t like you.’ And they heard the message and they got it.” Ross said.