Liberal Massachusetts and Conservative Colorado

Although Massachusetts and Colorado may not quite be exact ideological polar opposites among American states, they do come pretty close.

As one of the few states in which Republicans enjoy a distinct advantage in registration, Colorado forms an important piece of the Rocky Mountain wing of the national Republican base, voting in 1996 to put Bob Dole in the White House despite the overwhelming landslide in the opposite direction.  Colorado’s governor is Republican, as are both U.S. Senators and huge majorities of the state legislature. A Republican Presidential candidate unable to carry Colorado with easy confidence may not exactly be D.O.A., but is certainly close to receiving his last rites.

If Colorado is a very solidly conservative Republican state, Massachusetts is probably the most liberal and Democratic in the nation, home to Harvard University and Michael Dukakis, and the sole state to favor George McGovern in 1972. Every member of the Congressional Delegation is a Democrat as are both U.S. Senators and (with one exception discussed below) every statewide office holder.

Pundits may describe California’s desperately beleaguered Republicans as an endangered species because they can barely muster one-third of that state’s legislature, but Massachusetts Republicans can only dream of someday reaching such heights of power, being unable to even recruit *candidates* for two-thirds of the legislative seats. Just 13%
of Massachusetts voters are registered Republicans, putting that party barely above the local Greens or Libertarians, who have indeed at times matched or beaten Republicans in major statewide races.

Consider the humiliation of Massachusetts Republicans when Tuesday’s vote saw incumbent Democratic Sen. John Kerry cruise to a towering 80% victory over his weak and under-funded challenger. Consider the greater humiliation when we realize that the challenger in question was actually a Libertarian, no Massachusetts Republican having been able to gather sufficient signatures to even qualify for that ballot.


Given such an absolute political contrast between these two states, we should not be surprised that Tuesday’s vote on an issue as ideologically charged as bilingual education went very differently among those two very different electorates. Our “English” initiatives in Colorado and Massachusetts may have been nearly identical, but in one state we won what may well be a record-setting triumph, while in the other, we lost by a significant though hardly overwhelming 46%-54% margin.

And so, with ironies aplenty, when tens of thousands of Latino immigrant children begin their next school year in the ultra-liberal environs of Cambridge or Brookline, they will with few exceptions be receiving all their instruction in English from the first day of class, while their close cousins in rock-ribbed Republican Colorado continue to receive Spanish-only instruction, with Spanish-only textbooks and Spanish-speaking teachers, sometimes both imported straight from Mexico.

Truth really is stranger than fiction.


Tuesday’s victory for “English” in Massachusetts was a truly dramatic result, with our measure winning 68%-32%, a 36-point margin in an exceptionally heavy voter turnout.

Published returns indicate that considerably more Massachusetts voters made their selection on our Question 2, hidden away though it was on the back of the widely used paper ballot than bothered to vote in the bitterly-contested top-line race for governor, fifty million dollars of gubernatorial advertising notwithstanding. Anecdotal accounts by journalists support this remarkable fact, indicating that for many ordinary voters the choice of who would lead their state for the next four years was of rather secondary interest compared to the burning topic of bilingual education.

With nearly 70% support and a near-record turnout, it appears possible that “English” may have received more Yes votes than any other contested initiative in Massachusetts history, although we spent not a single advertising dollar to support our measure. And this entire result was achieved in the face of near-universal opposition from elected officials and unions and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in advertising on the No side.

Given these facts, it is hard to see how Massachusetts’ well-educated voters could have more strongly expressed their views on this subject, once and for all.


And our victory had likely consequences as well in the world of more mundane politics.

As it happened, Mitt Romney, the very moderate Republican candidate for governor, chose to make support for English immersion and Question 2 an absolute centerpiece of his campaign against Democrat Shannon O’Brien. Given the narrow political spectrum of Bay State politics, both the liberal Boston Globe and the more conservative Boston Herald actually had a difficult time locating any other substantive policy difference between the two candidates, based on their numerous debates and endless television barrages, with the issue of bilingual education and Question 2 being the sole exception.

Since Election Night gave Romney something of an upset 5 point victory margin and our measure a 36 point towering landslide, we are probably not wrong in drawing some connection between the two results. “English” may have played an important role in giving Republicans control of the statehouse despite their tiny 13% registration.

As a story from the front-page of yesterday’s Boston Globe indicates, some prominent Democrats themselves seem to have come to this same conclusion, demanding the resignation of their state party chair for his advocacy of policies—such as opposing Question 2—that were just too “ultra-left” even for Massachusetts Democratic voters. And we must remember that being judged “too left” for Massachusetts politics is hardly the same as being accused of a similar charge in rural Mississippi.

(For example, William Weld, the last Republican to win an open race for governor in Massachusetts, not only ran well to the left of his Democratic opponent in that race but was later rejected for an ambassadorship by Sen. Jesse Helms on the interesting grounds that he was too liberal to properly represent the views of the Clinton Administration.)

And even those Massachusetts candidates and elected officials who opposed our Question 2 almost never took the step of actually defending bilingual education, but merely raised the same spurious and desperate red-herrings of local control and unfunded mandates and teacher lawsuits that constitute the relatively safe harbor for those unwilling to defend the absolutely indefensible.

During the debates, Democratic candidate O’Brien may have proudly proclaimed her support for gay marriage and banning the death penalty and partial-birth abortions without parental consent for sixteen-year-olds, but she also endlessly stressed her strong personal support for “English immersion,” even if she could not quite bring herself to support the exact details of our Question 2.

Massachusetts may have had America’s oldest and most thorough bilingual education program, but once it was suddenly subjected to a direct challenge after thirty-one straight years of inviolability, its expected defenders seem to have vanished into thin air, with only the political fringe standing their ground in support of a program long assumed to be sacrosanct.

Sometimes it takes just a gentle knock on the door for an apparently invincible fortress to come crashing down in ruins.


What about Colorado?

There, much the same debate played out, with our opponents from conservative Republican Gov. Bill Owens on down endlessly proclaiming their public support for “English immersion” while opposing our Amendment 31 on numerous procedural and technical grounds, much like those desperately cited by Shannon O’Brien and her Massachusetts Democratic allies. With one significant exception, the arguments used by the No campaigns in the two states were virtually carbon-copies of each other.

Thus, both Massachusetts and Colorado bilingual advocates described the horrors of lawsuits being filed against teachers—although no such lawsuit has ever been filed in either California or Arizona—and contrary to all logic claimed that eliminating costly bilingual programs would somehow mysteriously impose vast new financial burdens upon the taxpayer. Local control over education would be lost and “one-size-fits-all” statewide mandates instead imposed.

Amusingly enough, the excuses for initiative opposition cited by Colorado Gov. Bill Owens—just recently described by a glowing National Review cover-story as the “Best Conservative Governor in America”—were almost word-for-word identical with those of Ted Kennedy, who is not quite as great a hero to America’s conservative movement.

The primary difference between the two states was that the vast media budget of the Colorado No campaign, 99% of it funded by a single check from eccentric billionaire heiress Pat Stryker, spent weeks blasting the Colorado airwaves, a situation which did not occur in the Bay State.

Not a single one of these Colorado spots ever actually defended bilingual education—why waste money defending the indefensible—but instead worked to persuade Colorado’s rather gullible electorate of the vast tax increase that would be required to fund the elimination of costly bilingual programs, a logical contradiction based on publicly-admitted factual error that nonetheless did not impact the effectiveness of that message.

With highly-credible conservative names such as Gov. Bill Owens to buttress the credibility of its message, the most intense political advertising campaign in Colorado history thus managed to eke out a relatively narrow electoral mandate for “No New Taxes.”


And for rather darker things as well.

As the victorious consultants of the Colorado No campaign have proudly described to local Colorado journalists, they concluded early on that their most effective message to Colorado’s conservative white voters was to raise fears that Amendment 31 would mean placing Latino immigrant students in regular classrooms with Anglo children, thereby causing “chaos” and “disrupting” education.  Certainly the visually gripping images, “doomsday” music, and fear-inspiring language of the millions of dollars of advertising effectively brought this message into every Colorado home containing a television set. ranks as America’s most influential anti-immigration publication, and one of its editors notes—“breathless with admiration”—that the No on 31 campaign subtly but effectively managed to transform bilingual education from an “anti-American idea” into an “anti-immigration idea,” resulting in a vast shift in Colorado sentiment on Amendment 31. He plausibly cites this as proof of the enormously strong strain of latent anti-immigration feeling in that state, available and waiting for any future politician courageous and ruthless enough to exploit it.

Whites in Colorado have had no opportunity to vote against Latino immigration or to vote against allowing Latino immigrant children to attend taxpayer-funded schools, but the No campaign apparently persuaded them that a vote against Amendment 31 was about the closest they could come to getting a say on these matters. Certainly, the landslide success of Proposition 187 in California—focused on much the same fear of Latino students in the classroom and associated financial burdens—is powerful confirming evidence of this political reality.


Thus, with “the Best Conservative Governor in America” essentially quoting the Teddy Kennedy line on bilingual education, with Colorado’s multiculturalist Latino activists enthusiastically backing a multi-million-dollar Prop. 187-style advertising campaign to defend their programs, and with the most liberal voters in America setting record margins in requiring an all-English curriculum from the first day of school, Tuesday’s initiative votes followed a strange and ironic path.

Who says that politics in America is never interesting?

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