Union dues, bilingual initiatives make June ballot

Separate initiatives to restrict political activity by labor unions in California and largely eliminate bilingual education have qualified for the June statewide primary ballot, Secretary of State Bill Jones announced Tuesday.

Backers of the proposals immediately hailed the announcement, while opponents promised hard-fought campaigns against the measures.

The political activity initiative, backed by Gov. Pete Wilson and others, would prohibit labor unions from spending a member’s dues on political activity unless the member gives written permission each year.

If passed in June, the initiative would take effect immediately, hampering labor’s ability to support candidates and other initiatives in the November elections, when the governor’s office, most legislative seats and 53 congressional seats are at stake.

Jones said supporters submitted over 480,766 valid signatures, more than the 433,269 needed for the measure to qualify for the ballot.

Wilson said he was “delighted” with the announcement.

“By putting this important measure on the ballot, we are giving Californians the opportunity to vote for needed campaign reform and for free choice in our elections — especially those union members too often stifled and virtually disenfranchised by their union bosses,” said the Republican governor, who has fought with many public employee unions throughout his tenure.

But political consultant Gale Kaufman, representing a committee opposing the measure, called the initiative an “underhanded” attempt “to ensure that working men and women do not have an equal opportunity to participate in next November’s elections.”

Kaufman said initiative opponents would also continue to pursue their legal challenge over how some of the qualifying signatures were collected.

The education measure, backed by Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz and others, promotes English-only instruction for California’s 1.3 million students with limited English skills. It would generally replace the current system of bilingual education with a one-year course in which those students are taught using an “English immersion” method.

Under the measure, parents who want to keep their children in bilingual education programs could attempt to do so by seeking a waiver.

Jones said the proposal qualified for the ballot with more than 510,796 valid signatures, with a minimum of 433,269 signers needed.

Backers of the measure said they were not surprised it qualified for the ballot but were nonetheless happy to hear the news.

“We expect to go full-speed ahead with information for voters and speeches, to get the word out about this initiative and about the failure of bilingual education,” said Sheri Annis, a spokeswoman for English for the Children, which is campaigning for the measure.

But Kelly Hayes-Raitt, a spokeswoman for a coalition of initiative opponents, contended that Jones’ announcement “is the beginning of the end for the Unz initiative.”

“The initiative eliminates local control. It eliminates the ability of local school districts to determine the best way to educate their own children. . . . Once voters have the opportunity to see the problems this initiative would cause, they will resoundingly defeat it,” she said.

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