California Trendin'

In sync with its resurgent economy, California is back leading the country politically, as results from this week's primary attest.

A ballot initiative to do away with bilingual education in the state's schools swept to victory, drawing more than 60 percent of the vote. With half the nation's bilingual classrooms, California could be setting a trend toward similar efforts elsewhere.

This development ought to spark some thorough, national rethinking of just how effective bilingual schooling has been over the past three decades. Are children making the promised transition to English? Most important, are they staying in school? Hispanic dropout rates still top the nation - at 17.9 percent overall, 46.2 percent for the children of recent immigrants. A majority of California's huge Hispanic electorate voted for the proposition.

The measure will be promptly challenged in court. The move toward bilingual education in the US will hasten, after all, by a 1974 Supreme Court decision affirming that non-English speaking students have a right to special help. One form of help is the English immersion backed by the proposition's authors. It's an approach that can work if done thoughtfully, with no scrimping of resources.

The other California ballot issue with national implications would have prohibited unions from using members' dues for political purposes without their permission. Organized labor's devotion of time and dollars to defeat the initiative paid off. But such measures are likely to resurface on ballots in other states, as well as on the Republicans' agenda in Congress.

Our sense of the issue: Slicing labor's ability to siphon money into politics is a halfway, clearly partisan maneuver. Better to close the loopholes that allow both labor and industry to pour money into political campaigns despite longstanding laws designed to curb such activity. Congress should be taking the lead here.

Regarding campaign spending, California's lead in that department is undisputed. But the record $100 million spent on this primary was partly for naught, with lower spending candidates, like Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Gray Davis, still winning. There's a trend worth following.

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