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Analysis: Simon faces issues in Calif.

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent   |   March 13, 2002 at 1:09 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, March 11 (UPI) -- Ward Connerly, leader of the 1996 Proposition 209 initiative campaign that banned the use of racial preferences by government agencies in California, has challenged new GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon to actively campaign for full enforcement of Prop. 209 and the other anti-multiculturalism laws that Golden State voters passed in three memorable referendum elections in the mid-1990s.

Similarly, Ron Unz, sponsor of Prop. 227, which replaced bilingual schooling for immigrant children with English-immersion, contends that upholding the English-only education law could be a winning issue.

Although California is widely considered a liberal state on social issues, its voters successively banned government benefits to illegal aliens in 1994's Prop. 187; affirmative action in state agencies in 1996's Prop. 209; and bilingual education in 1998's Prop. 227.

All three laws, however, have proven less popular with officials charged with enforcing them than with the electorate that passed them, which is one reason why they remain active issues in the state.

Connerly, a businessman and University of California regent, said, "I am quite certain that the 'chattering elite,' as Bill Simon has called them, of the Republican Party will counsel him to avoid hot button issues such as Propositions 209 and 227."

The Republican activist, who is of black, white, and American Indian descent, continued, "Despite Simon's decisive margin of victory over Riordan -- which, when added to Bill Jones's, signals a solid repudiation of the mushy, equivocal pronouncements of many California Republican leaders -- I suspect that Bill Simon will be tempted to veer to the left and blur some of his positions so as to attract a broader base. If he does so, especially on issues such as 209, 227 (and 187), I believe he misses a golden opportunity to strike a clear difference between himself and Gray Davis."

Bob Taylor, a spokesman for Simon, said that his candidate, a newcomer to running for office, is not emphasizing enforcement of Prop. 227 in his campaign. "Bill is talking about issues that resonate with the electorate right now, and those are pocketbook issues, education, and taxes."

Unz, the physicist turned software entrepreneur turned political activist, said, "The silence from Simon is hardly astonishing. Almost all Republicans are always silent on this issue."

All three of these propositions passed by solid majorities, ranging from nearly 55 percent for Prop. 209 up to 61 percent for Prop. 227. Their appeal extended beyond California. Connerly followed up his victory in California with a similar one in the state of Washington ruling out racial favoritism. And Unz led an anti-bilingual measure to victory in Arizona in 2000.

Enthusiasm for Prop. 187, however, may have faded somewhat, especially because its supporters often positioned it more as a cry for help from Washington to cut back on illegal immigration than as a practical long-term state policy. While illegal immigration remains high, the Immigration & Naturalization Service has since constructed a large wall on the border near San Diego. This has forced many illegal border crossers out of California and into the Arizona desert, relieving pressure on area homeowners.

Putting the voters' will into action, though, has proven a struggle. Prop. 187, the 1994 anti-illegal immigrant initiative, was ultimately doomed by Gov. Davis' 1999 refusal to appeal a court decision against it.

Similarly, just this month, California's State Board of Education voted to transfer the legal defense of Prop. 227, which mandated English immersion for immigrant students, from the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation to Davis' attorney general, Bill Lockyer. This has aroused fears among supporters of the law that the Davis administration may decide to "lay down" in a court fight over Prop. 227, just like it did in the Prop. 187 dispute.

Further, the Board of Education also voted to issue regulations weakening a couple of key provisions of Prop. 227. The two policies written into Prop. 227 are that, first, only parents, not teachers, can be involved in requesting a waiver from English immersion. Second, that even waived students must receive 30 days of immersion to begin each school year, in order to give parents an opportunity to compare the two methods. Unz says of the proposed loosening of his law that he is "desperately scrambling to block them."

Finally, Prop. 209, which banned racial discrimination by state and local agencies in California, is also intermittently under siege by those bodies. For example, the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District is currently appealing a ruling by a Sacramento County Superior Court judge in a case brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation. The judge held that Prop. 209 didn't allow the government owned utility to grant a 5 percent advantage on price to minority bidders for contracts just because the federal government might someday require it to do that, without showing evidence that federal government would do that.

The best-known example of efforts to undermine Prop. 209's enforcement is the University of California's refiguring of its admissions process in ways that will boost black and Hispanic enrollment. Connerly, a UC regent, told a meeting last summer, "The Latino Caucus [of the state legislature] is very blatant. They told us, 'Either you get our people in or we will cut your budget.'"

The university downgraded the general aptitude SAT I test (which used to be called the Scholastic Aptitude Test) in admissions. As a partial replacement, it boosted the importance of the subject-specific SAT II tests (formerly known as the Achievement Tests). Then last year, UC President Richard Atkinson proposed dumping the SAT I altogether in favor of the SAT II.

This gives an advantage to students from California's fast-growing immigrant groups by allowing them to take one of their required three SAT II tests in their native language. California Latino students who took the Spanish SAT II test in 2000 averaged an excellent 691 on a 200-800 scale with 500 as the midpoint. Latinos who are native Spanish speakers do even better on average, scoring 736 nationally.

Unfortunately, the fact that one was introduced to a foreign language while growing up is a particularly weak gauge of academic capability. According to an Educational Testing Service study of the validity of its SAT II tests reported on by Patti Hausman, "The Spanish test proved the weakest predictor of all." Using scores on the Spanish SAT II to predict freshman college grades was only 4 percent better than random guessing, while both the Chemistry and Math II tests were over eight times better at forecasting first year grade point average. In contrast to the Spanish SAT II, they each reduced uncertainty by 34 percent.

Running against multiculturalism worked well for Connerly's mentor, Pete Wilson, who was governor from 1991-1999. Connerly, said, "In my opinion, Pete Wilson would trounce Davis, notwithstanding the conventional wisdom in California that Wilson is 'divisive' and 'anti-Latino.'" This is an unfashionable assessment -- Wilson might be the most demonized man in recent Republican history -- so it's worth reviewing the history.

A severe recession struck California shortly after Wilson took office, making him "the most unpopular governor in the history of modern polling," according to a 1994 California Journal article. His disapproval ratings were greater than his approval ratings throughout his first term. Thus, Wilson entered his 1994 re-election bid trailing his Democratic opponent by 20 percentage points. Yet, in part by making Prop. 187 one of the centerpieces of his re-election campaign. Wilson came from behind and won by 15 points. Prop. 187 itself passed by 18 points.

Wilson is now widely derided as the man who destroyed the Republican Party in California by his support for the three anti-multiculturalist initiatives. Yet, the subsequent record shows less evidence of that than is generally assumed. In 1996, Wilson backed Prop. 209, which passed by nine points. In 1998, he endorsed Prop. 227, which passed by 22 points. He left office in 1998 (due to term limits), with his approval rating at its highest level ever -- 55 percent to 37 percent among registered voters in the Sept. 1998 L.A. Times Poll.

Clearly, the booming economy of 1998 contributed to Wilson's late blooming popularity, just as the recession hurt his approval ratings in earlier years. But it's hard to see much evidence that his perceived swing over the years from moderate to conservative made him less popular with the voters as a whole.

In contrast, 1998 Republican candidate Dan Lungren came out against the anti-bilingual education Prop. 227. He lost to Davis by 20 points. Similarly, in the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush -- who supports amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants, bilingual education, and what he calls "affirmative access" -- outspent Al Gore $20 million to nothing in California, and still lost by 11 points.

The poor performances by Lungren and Bush are frequently blamed on Wilson, who is said to have unleashed a tidal wave of Hispanic electoral power by backing the anti-illegal immigration Prop. 187. Latinos, who traditionally didn't much register or vote, are widely assumed today to have entered into politics en masse to fight against Prop. 187 and its sponsor, Pete Wilson.

Yet, as Antonio Villaraigosa's defeat by James Hahn in the 2001 Los Angeles mayoral election suggested, even in Los Angeles the much-anticipated Latino political hegemony hasn't fully gone through the process of coming into existence.

According to Census Bureau figures, Hispanics cast 11.4 percent of the vote in 1994 when the Republican Wilson won by 15 percentage points. By 1998, when the Republican Lungren lost by 20 points, Hispanics comprised 13.9 percent of the voters. (Their share remained level at 13.9 percent in 2000. In the rest of America, by the way, Hispanics only accounted for 4.4 percent of the vote in 2000.) That Hispanic growth of 2.5 points is, of course, impressive, but it can hardly account for the Republicans' 17 point collapse from Wilson's 55 percent in 1994 to Lungren's 38 percent in 1998.

One striking development in California has been the recent growth of the labor-Latino-leftist alliance. This has given Latinos particular clout in minor races -- they are now more heavily represented in the state legislature than among voters. The unions use Pete Wilson's name to fire up ethnic resentment, but it would seem naïve to assume that without Wilson, this movement would not have come into existence, since it's a response to the low wages received by many Hispanics.

The Achilles' heel of Hispanic voting power has always been turnout. In 1994, only 12.8 percent of California Latinos told the Census Bureau post-election survey that they had voted. By 1998, this had risen to 14.8 percent -- a large increase, but not one that would by itself revolutionize California politics.

The number of Hispanic voters increased by about 160,000 from 1994 to 1998, according to the Census Bureau, but the non-Hispanic vote total dropped by 975,000. This stemmed partly from less interest among non-Hispanics. The percentage of non-Latinos voting fell from 41.4 percent in the emotionally charged 1994 election to 35.9 percent in the less divisive 1998 gubernatorial election.

Also, a net of almost 2.2 million California citizens moved out of the state during the last decade, with the greatest outflow from 1994 to 1998. According to Milken Institute demographer William H. Frey, they tended to be in the mid-income range, family oriented, and fairly conservative in politics. In contrast, those who moved to California from the rest of the United States -- often drawn to jobs in Silicon Valley and Hollywood -- tended to be more economically elite and socially liberal.

This change in the non-Hispanic white population meant that the Achilles' heel of the California GOP appears to have become abortion. In 1998, Davis hammered Lungren, a Roman Catholic, on his opposition to abortion. (Davis is also Roman Catholic.)

This year, Davis has emphasized his fervent pro-choice stand as the key social issue in his re-election campaign. The Democrat ran $9 million of attack ads against Republican primary candidate Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles, who has long been active in Catholic charities. Riordan had been heavily emphasizing his support for abortion rights, but Davis ran attack ads showing that Riordan had in 1991 once called abortion "murder."

As Davis hoped, Riordan lost to Bill Simon, his fellow parishioner at St. Monica's Catholic Church in Santa Monica, a devout pro-life Catholic who has made several pilgrimages to Lourdes.

Interestingly, in 1998, Davis' stress on abortion rights did not seem to hurt him with Hispanics, who voted for him heavily over Lungren. Nor does Davis seem to fear that he will alienate Latinos in 2002 over legalized abortion. Several other experts agree that the GOP can't expect conservative cultural issues like limiting abortion to appeal so strongly to Hispanics.

Former L.A. Weekly editor Harold Myerson observed in American Prospect magazine: "For years the conventional wisdom about the future of California politics was ... that when Latinos finally got around to voting, their cultural conservatism would shift the state rightward." Indeed, Hispanics voted two to one in 2000 for Prop. 22, which banned gay marriage. Myerson, however, countered that, "Their economic progressivism, however, has consistently trumped their cultural conservatism."

Political scientists Stephen P. Nicholson and Gary M. Segura documented this in a quantitative study of Hispanics. In their survey, they found that among Latinos, "Social issues fail to attract much attention and religiosity has not been sufficient to create a pro-GOP shift." They predicted that Bush's efforts to woo Latinos would not benefit the GOP in the long run.

Connerly concluded: "Simon needs to support the goal of uniting California and its people by asking them to embrace those things that bring us together. The message has to be a uniting message and delivered with softness and concern for all Californians, but it also must be a clear statement of principles."

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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