Riordan vs. Davis on “English”

In politics, words sometimes carry meaning.

As we all know, candidates for high political office are notorious for hedging their remarks on controversial emotionally-charged issues, whether due to the uncertainty of their personal beliefs or the tutelage of their high-priced and risk-adverse media handlers. Direct and forceful language has grown increasingly rare in this age of Dick Morrisesque triangulation and ideological repositioning.

Therefore, all the more remarkable were the words uttered at a Saturday press conference by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, the Republican establishment candidate for governor of California and a committed moderate. Choosing the venue of a national gathering of Hispanic political activists, he denounced the State Board of Education’s attempt to restore bilingual education for Latino children in California as “downright evil.”

“Downright evil.” Those words represent something far deeper than a mere campaign pledge to enforce the will of California’s voters regarding a popular initiative. They demonstrate that Dick Riordan *really means it*, and that his opposition to the devastating effects of Spanish-only instruction for Latino children is absolutely heartfelt and absolutely unbending.

As a casual observer of the current gubernatorial contest, I suspect that Riordan’s words may be the first strongly emotional and unscripted statements on policy—any policy—that any of the four major candidates have spoken during nearly a full year of campaigning. And since test scores suggest that restoring bilingual education would devastate the educational achievement of hundreds of thousands of immigrant children, his feelings are not unreasonable.

Over the past few months, Democrat Gray Davis and Republicans Bill Simon and Bill Jones have pummeled Riordan, the Republican front-runner, with close to $15 million of harsh attack ads, and his weakening poll numbers reflect this. As a Los Angeles moderate in a California Republican Party dominated by “we hate Los Angeles” conservatives, Riordan had always been vulnerable to the ideological suspicions that have so often previously crippled statewide Republican candidacies, and $15 million is more than enough to bring such suspicions to the surface. His moderate candidacy—and the best Republican hopes for unseating Gray Davis—may or may not survive this powerful and coordinated assault.

But voters, whether liberal, moderate, or conservative, crave political sincerity, all the more so because it is in such desperately short supply. California has become America’s most ethnically-diverse state, containing over one-third of our nation’s huge immigrant population, and education has regained its top ranking among prospective voters, a substantial and growing fraction of whom are Latino.

And if every primary voter in California were to hear Riordan’s words denouncing Spanish-only instruction for Latino children in California public schools as “downright evil”—while his rivals Simon and Jones continued duck the issue—then I suspect that Dick Riordan would win his Republican primary in a landslide, with even a surprising number of Democratic voters writing his name onto their own ballots.

Certainly, National Review, America’s premier conservative magazine and never a friend to Republican moderates such as Dick Riordan, has taken a sudden and strong second look at his candidacy, as this morning’s column below indicates. I also include a few of the other news stories on Riordan’s Saturday statements.

Just seven days of campaigning remain before next week’s primary vote. The important question is whether or not Richard Riordan will follow his true beliefs and run on “English”—and thereby win.


P.S. I also include a new story from this morning’s Denver Rocky Mountain News, describing yet another statewide Colorado poll—the third this year alone—indicating overwhelming support for Colorado’s own forthcoming “English” initiative.

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