Sitting One Out
Anti-Bilingual Ed. Activist Steps Back From Politics
Silicon Valley entrepreneur and software developer Ron K. Unz has set off sparks in recent election seasons by financing campaigns to get rid of bilingual education through various statewide ballot initiatives.
But this time around, he was absent from the scene.
Mr. Unz says he’s withdrawn from the forefront of politics because he’s been creating a software program that would enable people to post political articles and magazines on the Internet more easily.
“I’ve been too busy writing code. It takes a lot of time,” Mr. Unz said in an Oct. 28 telephone interview from his home in Palo Alto, Calif.
In addition, Mr. Unz said, he’s run out of states that have both a lot of students in bilingual education and a process for statewide ballot initiatives.
In bilingual education classes, students are taught some subjects in their native languages while they are learning English.
In 1998, Mr. Unz launched his personal push to get rid of bilingual education by underwriting a campaign to get California voters to approve a state ballot initiative, called Proposition 227, against the teaching method.
Voters passed the measure in June of that year, leading to a major reduction in native-language instruction in the state. California has about 40 percent of the nation’s 4 million English-language learners.
In the November 2000 election, Mr. Unz paid for the effort to persuade Arizona voters to curtail bilingual education through a state ballot initiative—and they did.
Then in November of 2002, Mr. Unz financed campaigns to get state ballot measures against bilingual education approved in Colorado and Massachusetts. He succeeded in Massachusetts but failed in Colorado.
Mr. Unz said it didn’t make sense to return to Colorado to try to get an initiative passed once again in last week’s election. “When people vote against an initiative in a state, you have to wait a while to put it on the ballot,” he said.
Mr. Unz said it’s been a year and a half since he’s taken an active role in politics. In February of last year, he helped to unseat Nativo Lopez, a member of the school board of Santa Ana, Calif., in a recall election. One of the issues at stake was Mr. Lopez’s encouragement of parents to request waivers under Proposition 227. The waivers permit children to receive bilingual education.
Vol. 24, Issue 11, Page 14Published in Print: November 10, 2004, as Sitting One Out