Bilingual-ed backers found ally in parents
By Eric Hubler
Denver Post Education Writer
Thursday, November 07, 2002 - Upsetting white voters and keeping Latino
quiet were the keys to saving bilingual education in Colorado, according to the
consultants who helped defeat Amendment 31 on Tuesday.
Steve Welchert and John Britz were certain Ron Unz, the California businessman
who wants to end bilingual education nationwide, would appeal to conservative
Anglos. So they decided to do the same.
Trying to appeal to minorities by branding Unz a racist would have been easy but
pointless, they said. That is what his opponents did in California in 1998, in
in 2000 and in Massachusetts this year. One foe in Massachusetts even compared
Unz, who is Jewish, to a Nazi.
"That I don't think worked particularly well because he was able to counter,
some credibility, that he had support, especially from a number of Latino
said Stanford University political scientist Luis R. Fraga.
Unz's "English for the Children" initiatives won by big margins in the other
Colorado, it lost by 12 percentage points.
Welchert and Britz, working at the request of Latino activists, learned in July
Fort Collins heiress Pat Stryker would buy $3 million worth of TV time for
Plus, the coalition formed to fight the amendment. They kept the gift under
for more than a month to lull Unz into not buying ads.
But they were unsure what to do with the money, and they were uncertain which
message could take down a proposal that, according to English Plus' first poll,
78 percent support.
A 28-year-year-old Jefferson County mom in a focus group gave them an idea.
After insisting she liked Amendment 31 for an hour and a half, she had a
moment. The amendment would ban native-language support for most English
learners and mandate one year of immersion. After that, the immigrants would be
in mainstream classes and the teacher might have less time for her child.
"That's it, I vote 'no,"' she said.
Welchert and Britz figured the mom spoke for the nearly 75 percent of Coloradans
who, according to the 2000 census, are white and non-Hispanic. Even Denver still
has a slim Anglo majority.
Thus were born the "chaos in the classroom" commercials that saturated
airwaves in October, in which the camera panned in on dark-eyed children while
scary music played.
The kids' ethnicity wasn't identified, but they were meant to unsettle Anglos,
Welchert and Britz said.
So, while Unz was being called a racist in Massachusetts, he issued a release
his Colorado foes "vicious liars and race-baiters."
"In Massachusetts, since the state is so liberal, the (opposition's) tilt was
little bit less targeted to scaring conservative white voters," Unz said
English Plus' need to appeal to whites also explains why the consultants chose
Irish-born state school board member Gully Stanford to do much of the campaign's
public speaking. Stanford co-chaired English Plus with Beverly Ausfahl, a black
"We had plenty of Latinos in the coalition, but it had to be the broader face of
Colorado," Welchert said.
While English Plus slammed Unz's contention that kids could learn English in one
year, they tried to resist saying nasty things about Unz himself. When Denver
editorial page editor Sue O'Brien called Unz a "bigot" in print - the sort of
campaign usually prays for - Welchert and Britz asked English Plus members not
repeat the comment publicly.
Unz says he wants immigrants to succeed in America. But unchecked
multiculturalism, including bilingual education, could tear the country apart,
warned in a 1999 article titled "California and the End of White America."
Colorado's libertarian streak helped the opposition, Welchert and Britz said.
Conservative Coloradans have long clamored for school vouchers, arguing that
giving parents choices helps kids.
Amendment 31 would have restricted parents' ability to choose bilingual classes,
with complex and - for educators - legally risky waiver rules.
"You can't be for choice when it's your choice but against it when it's Hispanic
parents' choice. So we got one of the strangest bedfellows," Britz said.
After the polls closed, Unz said that his loss here won't stop him from taking
anti-bilingual-education message national. Rather than press the issue state by
state, he said he'll try and get Congress to act.
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