PHOENIX—CBS newsman Walter Cronkite resigned from the advisory board of a group that promotes government use of English only, and the former White House aide who is the organization’s president says she may follow suit.
In a letter to U.S. English president Linda Chavez, Cronkite said he was afraid that an Arizona proposal the group supports could hurt minorities.
The letter dated Oct. 6 was released by Cronkite’s office in New York on Thursday.
Ms. Chavez, a former aide to President Reagan and U.S. Senate candidate in Maryland, also said she was considering resigning unless U.S. English chairman John Tanton steps aside due to a controversy over a 2-year-old memo she termed “repugnant.”
In his letter, Cronkite said he regretted not being able to devote much time to U.S. English, but believed its use of his name in its campaign for a referendum to make English Arizona’s official language “has proved embarrassing.” The measure, Proposition 106, is on the November ballot.
Cronkite said he remained opposed to bilingualism, but said he “cannot favor legislation that could even remotely be interpreted to restrict the civil rights or the educational opportunities of our minority population.”
He asked that his name be removed from U.S. English’s letterhead and other organization material.
The Arizona measure would change the state constitution to designate English as the state’s official language and forbid state and local governments from using foreign languages except when needed to protect safety and health.
Also exempt are such things as the use of interpreters in criminal cases and compliance with federally mandated programs such as multilingual ballots and some bilingual education programs for children.
Opponents say the measure would hamper courts, reduce opportunities for schools to teach English to adults and make it difficult for state tourism and commerce programs to be marketed overseas. It would also be impossible for those who speak no English to have interpreters in civil court proceedings, opponents contend.
Backers of Proposition 106 say approval would unify the state, encourage integration of minorities into the mainstream and save money.
Ms. Chavez said she had not spoken with Cronkite, but believed that Tanton’s memo also “gave him great pause, as it does me.”
The memo, written while Tanton was participating in an immigration conference, raised the specter of an America doomed to racial conflict between a minority of educated, well-off Anglos outnumbered by uneducated, poor immigrants consisting of other ethnic and racial groups.
Tanton added that many of the immigrants would be Catholic and that could reduce the separation between church and state.
Tanton’s assertions were “anti-Hispanic and anti-Catholic,” and fuel the fire for opponents of U.S. English-backed campaigns in Arizona, Colorado and Florida, Ms. Chavez said Thursday from Denver, where she was preparing for a debate on a measure U.S. English backs in Colorado.
They “were repugnant, and I have told him so,” she said. The board of U.S. English is scheduled to meet this weekend, and Tanton’s future may be on the agenda, she added.
“I would recommend, if asked, that he resign,” she said.
Ms. Chavez said Tanton’s position as chairman was largely honorary.
Tanton’s political stands first surfaced in 1986 in a Los Angeles newspaper report on an official English campaign in California. It resurfaced early this month with reports in Miami and Phoenix papers detailing the memo.
Tanton, an opthamologist from Michigan, has insisted he is not a racist.