Richard Riordan has made plenty of mistakes in his campaign to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in California – mainly by antagonizing the GOP base whose votes he will need in next week’s primary and then again in the general election. When he was asked recently to name his favorite his favorite California governors, he inexplicably forgot to mention Ronald Reagan – citing Earl Warren and Edmund G. Brown instead. (Brown, in fact, is the man Reagan had to defeat in 1966 to win first race for office.) Riordan also drew boos at a recent speech for criticizing another popular Republican governor, George Deukmejian.

Over the weekend, however, Riordan adopted a new cause – or at least returned to an old one: bilingual education. "It’s worse than nonsense. It’s downright evil," said Riordan on Saturday, in reference to the California state board of education’s recent move to undermine Proposition 227, which eliminated bilingual education four years ago. "Gray Davis, in the name of God, in the name of our children, stop this!"

Those are stirring words, and they can’t be underestimated. The assimilation of millions of children is at stake in this debate. It is critically important that the state board of education, which is full of Davis appointees, reverse direction before these proposed regulations are made permanent. Riordan himself comes to the issue with an enormous amount of credibility. As mayor of Los Angeles in 1998, he was the only major politician in either party to endorse Ron K. Unz’s initiative, which passed in a landslide.

It would be nice to see Riordan’s two primary opponents join Riordan in this crucial fight. Bill Simon, whom NR endorses in its current issue, and secretary of state Bill Jones have kept a relatively low profile on the subject. They should speak out loudly, and soon. If they don’t, cultural conservatives will have plenty of reason to wonder why they didn’t – and a very good reason to support the candidacy of a man they currently view with suspicion.

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