“English” vs. the Al Sharpton of Orange County

One of the clearest distinctions between ordinary citizens and those deeply enmeshed in political activities is their terminology. Normal people live in neighborhoods or cities, but candidates and those who help elect them live in “media-markets.”

A media-market is the approximate geographical region served by the main and intersecting sources of media information such as newspapers or local television stations, and these usually correspond to a major city and its environs. The concept is somewhat fuzzy; by some measures, Silicon Valley is the southern part of the San Francisco media market and by others constitutes its own.

One of the most important political features of New Jersey is that this sizable state contains no significant media markets of its own, being instead divided between the media markets of New York City and Philadelphia. Therefore, political figures in New Jersey receive almost no regular television news coverage, rendering their political campaigns extraordinarily volatile, confused, and expensive.

Similarly, Orange County, CA is a vast metropolitan region with numerous large cities, a powerful high- technology industry, and a population numbering in the millions. But since it constitutes merely the southern end of the Los Angeles media-market, its local politics receive minimal electronic coverage, and are usually ignored—or crudely stereotyped— by the rest of the country.

Thus, as the column below from the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times discusses, Nativo Lopez, the highly controversial “Al Sharpton” of Orange County, receives just a minute fraction of his famous counter-part in America’s national media capital. But that situation may soon begin to change.

Over the years, Lopez, a rising Latino power, has regularly been targeted by Orange County’s politically-dominant Republican Party, but has come away from each attack wholly victorious and more influential. Several years ago, the Clinton Administration accused his federally-funded social service organization—which constitutes the core of his political machine—of having failed to account for hundreds of thousands of government dollars. Clinton is gone, but Lopez is still here.

Lopez’s political popularity among his constituents seems doubtful at best. During his 2000 re- election campaign for the Santa Ana School Board, he raised and spent an absolutely unprecedented $150,000, much of it obtained, according to the Los Angeles Times article below, by strong-arming those doing business with his office. Yet despite deploying this vast sum, which utterly dwarfed the budgets of his opponents by ratios of 30-to-1 or even 50-to-1, he survived by just a few hundred votes. Numerous unconfirmed local rumors of extortion, malfeasance, misappropriation of public funds, and other doubtful activities have long swirled about his head.

But while Lopez has survived the attacks of the Orange County Republicans and survived the attacks of the Clinton Administration, he now appears enormously vulnerable to one force far stronger than either, namely aggrieved Latino parents, angry that their children are not being taught English in their local schools.

As described below, these parents have begun a recall campaign against Lopez on the very reasonable grounds that he has completely failed in his official educational duties by ignoring Proposition 227 and maintaining a disastrous system of Spanish-only classes in Santa Ana schools. Such charges of deliberate educational malfeasance seem highly plausible since Lopez himself had been probably the most vocal and determined opponent of the 1998 measure in Orange County, and even after its passage, promised to do everything within his power to prevent local Latino students from being taught English. Just days after the landslide victory of Proposition 227, he wrote an opinion piece to this effect, provided below, whose facts may be garbled but whose intent is clear.

Contrary to the enduring popular national stereotype, Orange County is no longer homogenously Anglo, Republican, and conservative. In fact, Santa Ana, its largest city, is overwhelmingly Democratic and Latino, with some 80% of registered voters falling into the latter category. Just a few months ago, Santa Ana received national media coverage as being the American city with the highest percentage of non-English-speaking residents, beating out such prominent immigrant bastions as New York, Los Angeles, and Miami for this distinction.

Thus, this current recall campaign, though arduous, may have enormous national implications. If it is opposition to “English” that finally ends the career of as shrewd and battle-scared a tough political survivor as Nativo Lopez in one of America’s most Latino, Democratic, and non-English- speaking cities, then perhaps that issue is indeed a magic political bullet. Other vote-greedy politicians may finally begin to take notice.

Perhaps the national media will even cover this decisive and approaching political battle in what might be viewed either as one of the largest metropolitan areas in America or merely the obscure southern tip of the Los Angeles media market.

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