Pete Wilson showed again Monday that the primary legacy of his eight-year tenure will be his capacity to be divisive.
The governor vetoed a bill that would have given local schools the authority to decide what kind of bilingual education best suits their students. And he endorsed Proposition 227, the initiative on the June 2 ballot that would scrap existing programs and give non-English-speaking students only one year in a transition class before teaching them in regular classes.
In testimony to the poisonous atmosphere Wilson can bring to public debate, the backer of Proposition 227, Ron Unz, called the governor’s endorsement “very unfortunate.” Unz worries that opponents will use Wilson’s support to argue that Proposition 227 is, in fact, an anti-immigrant measure.
Unz, of course, is hardly a Wilson fan, having run against him in 1994’s GOP primary. But his concern about Wilson’s support is understandable. Whether the issue has been immigration or affirmative action or bilingual education, Wilson is a man who polarizes people rather than bring them together.
All three Democratic candidates for governor and the unopposed Republican primary candidate, Attorney General Dan Lungren, have come out against Proposition 227. They do not deny what Wilson said Monday -bilingual education has been a failure in many California schools. But they recognize that the way to improve bilingual education is to give authority to local school boards, not impose a one-size-fits-all mandate.
The bill Wilson vetoed would have let local school boards decide how to teach bilingual students, but it would have forced them to overhaul their programs if English learners did not achieve at the same level of districtwide students within two years.
But that’s a common sense approach, lacking Proposition 227’s simplistic, red-meat appeal. And so it was all too predictable that Wilson opposed it.