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Voters end bilingual education, shoot down Clean Elections
By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, 11/05/02
While the bilingual education question roiled the state's immigrant communities, the debate over the Clean Elections law pitted Beacon Hill leaders such as House Speaker Thomas Finneran, D-Boston, against advocates of public campaign financing.
The question with the potential to cause the most turmoil on Beacon Hill was narrowly defeated as voters opted to pass up an opportunity to end the state's income tax.
The plan to end the state income tax was the brainchild of the state Libertarian Party.
Supporters, including Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Carla Howell, said eliminating the income tax would force lawmakers to get by with less, put more money back in the pockets of taxpayers and create jobs.
But critics warned that ending the tax would drain $9 billion in state revenues each year, make it harder to maintain schools, roads and police and fire services, and drive up property and sales taxes.
Ann Phillips, a 47-year-old registered nurse from Brookline, said she wasn't convinced by the promise of more money and jobs.
"I'd like it, but it's not realistic," she said.
Of the three ballot initiatives, the plan to replace bilingual education with a one-year English "immersion" program drew the most heated debate, but gathered enough votes to pass by a more than 2-to-1 margin.
Under the initiative, students not proficient in English would be taught all classes in English.
Supporters said the state's three decade old bilingual education program has created an educational ghetto for students not proficient in English.
Opponents said the ballot question would force all school districts to use a "one size fits all" approach to teach English and let parents sue teachers for teaching in a native language.
Nowhere was the debate as fierce as in immigrant communities. Latino activists had rallied opponents at the same time as some Latino parents expressed support for the initiative.
Julie Garcia, 50, a certified nurse assistant from Springfield learned English in school after her family moved to New Mexico from Mexico.
"It's a hard thing, but this is America," Garcia said. "You have to speak English."
The last statewide question asked voters whether they really meant what they said four years ago when they approved the Clean Elections law.
Apparently, they didn't, as they voted 3-to-1 on the nonbinding question in opposition to the law, which provides public dollars to candidates who agree to fundraising and spending limits.
The law met with bitter resistance from state legislators, who refused to fund or abolish it.
After the state's highest court intervened, lawmakers agreed to pay for the law for one year and put an advisory question on the ballot.
Clean Elections supporters said the wording of the nonbinding question was skewed to give lawmakers an excuse to kill campaign finance reform.
They said when voters were told that the public money would only go to candidates who agreed to campaign fundraising and spending limits, they supported the question.
Advocates pointed to 11 districts, including Finneran's, where voters were given a chance to cast a ballot on a nonbinding question with the expanded wording. In each district, the question was approved, according to Clean Elections spokesman Joe O'Brien. In most of those same districts, Question 3 was also defeated.
Those who oppose the law said the state can't afford to give money to candidates, especially in the middle of an ongoing fiscal crisis.
Opponent won the financial backing of corporations and wealthy individuals, who poured more than $600,000 into the campaign to defeat the campaign finance law, including $50,000 each from Liberty Mutual Life Insurance, John Hancock Financial Services, State Street Bank and Fidelity Investments.
Art Edward, 85, of Springfield said campaign reform is worth the cost.
"The only way we are going to really get clean elections is by using government money," he said.