PALO ALTO, Calif. – An elementary school teacher who works with immigrant children.
A former Democratic Party campaign coordinator who is Mexican-American.
A missionary tutoring children of garment workers.
And Jaime Escalante, the East Los Angeles calculus teacher whose successful methods were documented in the film “Stand and Deliver.”
They make up the public relations “dream team” for the initiative to wipe out bilingual education in California.
“A legislator’s or some politician’s endorsement is certainly not as valuable as one from someone like Jaime Escalante,” said Ron Unz, author and chief supporter of Proposition 227, which would outlaw non-English instruction in California schools.
Clearly, Unz – who speaks no Spanish and is of Russian and Israeli descent – has influential couriers getting his message out.
Unz can afford to support his beliefs. Most of the $1.5 million spent on the campaign came from his pockets or those of wealthy conservative friends.
Florida businessman William Dunn gave $75,000. A philanthropic organization operated by Home Savings and Loan chief Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson Jr. contributed $100,000. New York investment firm partner Richard Gilder pitched in $40,000.
Unz contributed $70,000 and borrowed $580,000 for the campaign. It is not the first political cause he has championed financially.
In 1994, Unz shocked Republican Party loyalists when he ran unsuccessfully against Gov. Pete Wilson using $2 million in profits from his software company, Wall Street Analytics. He compared Wilson to the Democrats for his spending on social services.
“The main thing is that I got to learn how you do something politically,” the Ivy League-educated businessman said.
Unz brushes aside criticism he is a hardline conservative, pointing to his diverse team and his opposition to Proposition 187, the initiative to deny social services to undocumented immigrants.
James Crawford, former Washington editor of “Education Week,” acknowledged Unz is running a smart campaign.
“He is not your traditional immigrant-basher,” said Crawford, who opposes the bilingual initiative. “He is willing to spend his own money and work with anyone. And his tactics are effective.”
Unz is working with Alice Callaghan, who manages an after- school center in the Los Angeles garment district. She said they “don’t agree on many things, but we do agree that bilingual education does not work.”
Being with children who failed to learn academic English inspired her to organize a boycott of Ninth Street Elementary School in 1996. She and about 70 parents demanded the school provide alternative instruction to bilingual education, catching national media and Unz’s attention.
Santa Ana teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, charged with insubordination for refusing to use bilingual education methods, helped Unz draft the initiative. Fernando Vega, leader of a Hispanic voter drive to re-elect President Clinton, sent him an endorsement letter.
And then there is Escalante, who said he backs the proposition because “my kids don’t need handouts.”
“Affirmative action begins with students in the classroom learning their ABCs and reading English,” he said. “I don’t care about politics or about who this guy (Unz) is. I just care about what I think is right.”
Unz has substantial support in Escalante, but opponents said he has little else.
“He has not picked up the Latino leadership,” said Theresa Bustillos, legal director for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
With the dream team, Unz may not need it. A recent poll found 70 percent of voters surveyed favor the initiative.
Sheri Annis, an Unz campaign worker in downtown Los Angeles said: “We’re confident that we’re going to win.”