The wealthiest woman in Colorado could slip unobserved into a PTA meeting or join a group of soccer moms and never seem out of place. Indeed, it was only because she thought political maneuvering was going to affect her daughter's education that she first became a force in Colorado politics. Pat Stryker rarely speaks to the press and leads a quiet life in Fort Collins, but her involvement in public life began with a fight against a ballot initiative she believed would harm her family.
A divorced mother of three, Stryker had enrolled her daughter in a public dual- language school so she could learn Spanish. In 2002 an initiative placed on the ballot by a group called English for the Children would have eliminated most bilingual programs in Colorado. Fearing the law would destroy her daughter's school, Stryker donated $3 million to the successful campaign to defeat the initiative. Her donation was widely credited with turning voters against it.
Rather than trying to make the argument for bilingual education, opponents of the initiative chose to frame the debate in terms of how the proposal would affect average Colorado families. The TV ads raised the possibility that "mainstreaming" non-English speaking children into regular classrooms would hurt the other students. "We knew the way you win campaigns is to make it real to people," says Steve Welchert, a Denver political consultant who ran the campaign. "We said little Johnny's class would be disrupted by immersing kids in his class who weren't ready. We just appealed to people's common sense. Do you really think everyone can learn English in a year?"