State GOP activists back bilingual education limits

ANAHEIM — Despite frantic efforts by the state party chairman to silence debate on the issue, California Republican activists Saturday voted overwhelmingly to endorse a proposed ballot measure to limit bilingual education in public schools.

Delegates at the party’s semiannual convention also embraced a measure to restore the state’s parental consent law for minors’ abortions.

And Gov. Pete Wilson, outlining his election-year priorities, told delegates he would “fervently support” an initiative to limit labor unions’ ability to raise campaign contributions from their members.

While the GOP’s lineup of candidates for the 1998 elections remains unclear because of pending court decisions on voter-approved laws on term limits, campaign financing and an open primary system, party regulars this weekend are busy debating new ballot measures.

But party leaders and rank-and-file members are split over the ultimate effect of the bilingual education initiative and whether it will help their collective cause next year. The signature-gathering drive to place the issue before voters in the June election, led and financed by wealthy computer executive Ron Unz, is more than two- thirds completed.

Party leaders are concerned the party’s endorsement could be construed as anti-Hispanic and set back the GOP’s effort to reach out to minority voters in the aftermath of divisive ballot battles over illegal immigration and affirmative action that some believe contributed to Republican candidates’ dismal showing last November.

“The Democrats will certainly try to frame it as a rallying point,” party chairman Michael Schroeder said of the bilingual education measure. “This is not something that was initiated by the Republican Party. This is not something that has unanimous support within the California Republican Party. I think the party is divided on this issue. ? The solutions to this need to come from the Hispanic community ? not from the first person able to write a check and say, ‘Here’s what I think the answer is.’ “

Schroeder tried to bottle up the issue Friday by sending the endorsing resolution to a hastily appointed committee, which abruptly tabled it. But he was soundly overruled Saturday, as supporters mustered the two-thirds vote they needed to overturn the earlier action.

“The rank and file of the Republican Party have made it clear that they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with 80 percent of Hispanic families” in opposing bilingual education, said Assemblyman Tom McClintock, R-Camarillo, chief proponent of the endorsement action. “I think this gives the party an opportunity to redeem itself because of its disgraceful handling of Propositions 187 and 209.”

The measure generally requires instruction to be conducted in English and requires the state to spend $50 million a year for 10 years on English instruction for students with limited English proficiency.

Despite the party’s action, most potential GOP candidates for statewide office have yet to take a position on the measure. Attorney General Dan Lungren, the party’s all-but-certain nominee for governor next year, has said he has serious concerns about the Unz initiative because it limits control of local school boards.

Wilson, meanwhile, told delegates he would become honorary chairman of an effort to limit labor unions’ ability to finance campaigns. Labor unions for teachers and state employees have pumped millions of dollars into campaigns against Wilson, whom they view as anti-worker and anti-union.

The measure, which supporters are trying to qualify for the June ballot, would prevent unions from deducting union dues from employees’ paychecks for political purposes unless each employee agrees in writing every year.

“Every member of a labor union should not only be free to speak his or her mind, they shouldn’t be forced to have their pockets picked for political causes they don’t support and don’t believe in,” Wilson said in a luncheon speech to delegates.

Both the party faithful and Lungren are pushing a measure to restore the parental consent law that the state Supreme Court struck down in August. Petitions to place the matter before voters in November 1998 should be in circulation by December, with supporters needing 693,230 valid signatures. The law, initially passed by the Legislature in 1987 but never enforced, would require unmarried women younger than 18 to get the consent of at least one parent before having an abortion, although a Superior Court judge could waive the rule in certain circumstances.

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