The issue: Leader of bilingual initiative strays into personal attacks
Our view: Stop sneering at a man’s accent

Ron Unz is a smart man. Anyone whose IQ (214) is mentioned in articles about him must be a smart man. Indeed, this California-based author of citizen initiatives against bilingual education is the sort of fellow whose intelligence is acknowledged even by his critics, so you figure there’s got to be something to it.

On the one occasion that Unz has stopped by our offices, he not only seemed intelligent, but good-humored, too. Too smart and good-humored, we would have thought, to stoop to the sort of dubious tactic he’s deployed against a leading opponent of his English-immersion initiative here in Colorado.

Unz — who is a big supporter of immigration and who bases his opposition to bilingual education on his desire to see immigrants succeed — has taken to attacking Gully Stanford, a member of the Colorado Board of Education, because he is an immigrant.

“The chief defender of bilingual education in Colorado,” Unz wrote recently in one of many e-mails he sends around the country to people interested in his political activities, is “a Mr. Guilford Stanford, an Anglo-Irish actor and self-proclaimed European Democratic Socialist, whose deep roots in Denver’s Performing Arts community have provided him with enormous insight into the educational needs and wants of poor Mexican immigrant families.”

Unz proceeds to mention a poll that shows strong support for his initiative in Colorado before launching into the following prediction: “This impressive initial margin [in the poll], coupled with the prospective match-up between fiery Latino activist Rita Sandoval Montero demanding ‘English’ and the rather snooty Mr. Guilford Stanford defending — in his upper-crust British accent — Spanish-only in the schools might seem to portend an election contest along the lines of American B-52s vs. Taliban muskets.”

Now, Unz would never dream of mocking a Mexican immigrant’s accent, or refer repeatedly to that immigrant’s origins as a way to undermine his credibility in a political debate. Yet this e-mail was not the first by Unz to sneer at Stanford’s origins and accent. Nor has Unz managed even to be strictly accurate in his sallies.

For example, we asked Stanford if “Guilford” is indeed his real name.

No, he said. It’s William.

We also asked Stanford, who is chief of public affairs at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, whether he was indeed an actor.

No, he said. Never been one. Been a stage hand, though.

Is that “Anglo-Irish” accent of his a product of the British “upper-crust”?

No, he said. Middle class.

To be sure, we failed to ask Stanford whether he is “snooty,” since that’s a tricky judgment and because we don’t naturally associate a British, Irish or Anglo-Irish accent with snootiness.

Nor did we ask Stanford by what right does someone with an accent and “deep roots” in the performing arts community presume to speak out against a proposed citizen initiative, since we believe the answer is self-evident. As a Coloradan (and U.S. citizen), he has every right to spend as much time as he likes fighting or supporting a political cause. Just as Unz, a high-tech entrepreneur, has every right to make the abolition of bilingual education his personal crusade.

We raise these points not to take an early shot against Unz’s initiative. We’ve been among the most outspoken local critics of how bilingual education has been implemented in this state, and have not yet drawn any conclusions regarding next fall’s election. But precisely because bilingual education evokes such passion on both sides, we don’t want to see the upcoming debate in Colorado degenerate into a name-calling contest.

And that goes for both sides. Stanford has dismissed Unz’s efforts in this state as “impertinent,” while describing him as “this self-made California millionaire trying to write himself a chapter in Colorado’s educational history without any sense of the diversity of the population and their needs.” Apparently millionaires are only praiseworthy when they make large donations to the Denver Center.

Yes, Unz is very rich. And Stanford will not be confused with a native of Topeka. Now that these facts are established, could we now move on to debating the actual initiative?

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