The GOP’s support for an initiative to do away with much of the state’s bilingual education program culminated a weekend filled with paradoxes: Every time Republicans talked boldly about appealing to minorities, they provided fresh evidence as to why their party remains primarily the domain of white males.
Even many GOP faithful scratched their heads over the party’s selection of the keynote speaker for Saturday’s “diversity breakfast” — Representative Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, who is best known for her sympathy for the militia movement.
One of the most conservative members of Congress, Chenoweth once remarked that white Anglo- Saxon males were becoming an “endangered species.” after her address, noting that curbs on affirmative action were giving new life to the species.
During her speech, Chenoweth evoked the name of Representative J.C. Watts, R-Okla., six times, but was at a loss to explain why he is the only African American among 282 Republicans in Congress.
“Frankly, I don’t know why the party has not been more able to attract more Afro-American individuals,” she said afterward.
Most Republicans milling about the hospitality suites at the convention insisted that it is not their conservative policies that drive most minorities to the Democratic Party, but a combination of their lack of grassroots organizations, the harshness of their rhetoric and the bias of the liberal media.
“Sometimes, Republicans come across as angry, rather than visionary,” said pollster Frank Luntz, one of the architects of the national Republican Contract With America. Luntz flew from Washington to Anaheim to talk to GOP leaders on the party’s image.
Attorney General Dan Lungren, the near-certain GOP nominee for California governor, insisted that the top issues of concern to most minorities are the very ones Republicans are strongest on: education, law and order, and job security.
“Some would suggest we have to give up some of our principles to expand the party — we don’t,” Lungren said.
“The most conservative” people in the state, Lungren added, are the “black men and women in church on Sunday.”
Lungren said the key to building minority support is to simply show up in their neighborhoods, and he implored party activists to redouble their efforts in traditionally Democratic areas.
The GOP’s low standing among minorities is well documented. According to the party’s own estimates, about one in three Latinos voted for George Bush in 1992, while only one in five voted for Bob Dole in 1996.
There are approximately 10 million Californians of Latino descent, and that number is expected to climb dramatically over the next several decades.
“The days of rounding up five guys with sombreros and yelling ‘Viva Bush’ . . . are over,” said Mike Schroeder, chairman of the California Republican Party.
Over the objections of some of the party’s Latino leaders, the 1,200-plus delegates assembled here endorsed what is called the “English for the Children” initiative, which supporters hope to place on the June 1998 ballot.
The measure would do away with most of the state’s bilingual education program, which is responsible for teaching the 1.3 million children classified as “not proficient in English,” and replacing it with intense English language instruction.
Supporters, who include some Latino groups, contend the existing program has been an utter failure and believe the new approach will offer a better opportunity for non-English speaking students.
FEAR OF BACKLASH
On a political level, many Republicans are concerned that it will be viewed by Latinos as an attempt to deprive them of an education.
“This could become the third strike for the California Republican Party,” warned Craig DeLuz, a GOP delegate from Sacramento, referring to Propositions 187 and 209.
DeLuz’s concern was echoed by some Republicans close to Governor Pete Wilson, who declined to take a position on the measure, and by state party chairman Schroeder, who tried to kill the resolution. It was only after a weekend of parliamentarian maneuvering that the measure was brought before the convention and ratified.
“For the GOP party to chicken out on this would be a terrible mistake,” said Ron Unz, the Palo Alto software designer who is promoting the measure.
Unz’s group must collect 433,000 valid signatures by mid-November to qualify the measure for the June ballot. The group says it has already collected close to 400,000.