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OFFBEAT

Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov

Yo Quiero Su Voto

California voters may have said no

gracias to bilingual education, but state lawmakers are apparently saying to Spanish lessons. You may recall that last fall would-be governors Al Checchi and Dan Lungren managed to eke out a few words in español just in time for the election. And Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante wasted no time in sending out a message asking the state’s ever-growing Latino electorate for their support. Now a small cadre of lawmakers are learning Spanish for those non-election occasions. Among the most visible is Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, who spent two weeks last November in Cuernavaca, Mexico, at the Bilingual Institute, undergoing an intensive language course. Cedillo’s aides say the former labor leader invested his own time and money because he wanted to brush up on his Spanish to improve communications with all of his constituents. And you may have noticed that Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa is giving more and more interviews in Spanish, thanks to a concerted effort to improve his español. "He’s been practicing a lot," said one staff er. As for the rest of Sacramento, Cedillo’s office has been getting calls from other lawmakers curious about learning the language of the state’s fastest-growing voting bloc.

—Sandra Hernandez

Be Tripping

OffBeat would be remiss if it didn’t

offer our readers a chance to take part in the freedom fight of the decade. That’s right, the Linda Tripp Legal Defense Fund (check out the Web site at www.lindatripp. com) is accepting donations of $20, $100, "even $1,000," from all the little people concerned about the welfare of the First Fink in the Lewinsky affair. "Now they have me in their cross hairs and I feel like David up against Goliath," Tripp confides breathlessly in a pre-Christmas fund-raising letter. Tripp, as you probably remember, is under investigation by a Maryland grand jury for allegedly surreptitiously taping Monica Lewinsky’s dewy phone confidences about her liaison with President Clinton. Tripp says she can’t handle $350,000 in legal bills on her $90,000-a-year Pentagon PR salary. The bills include payments to her two lawyers and spokesman Philip Coughter, but not to the gym where the Blackwell’s Worst-Dressed List honoree recently whittled herself down to a size 8, a source said. Some 11,000 people responded to Tripp’s appeal, Coughter reports. One can only guess at their reasons: Do they support ratting out friends? Exploiting co-workers? No word yet on a total dollar figure for the fund.

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

Now plenty of people say

that they’d do anything to get out of San Jose. But Joe Luis Mendez really means it. Mendez is the alleged hijacker who tried to divert a San Jose–bound Southwest airliner to Hollywood last month. According to an FBI affidavit filed in the case, Mendez woke up disoriented aboard Flight 923 from San Diego and began fighting with stewardess Christie Beal over their destination. "Beal told Mendez that the plane was going to San Jose, California. Mendez then told her it was not going to San Jose, but would be going to Hollywood," Special Agent Mark Wilson said in the affidavit. After Mendez threatened to "start killing people" if he didn’t get his way, Beal put him on the phone to Captain David Deats. Deats told him there was no airport in Hollywood, but he could choose between Los Angeles and Burbank. Mendez, sensibly, picked Burbank. Wilson interviewed Mendez at the Burbank Police Department five hours after the alleged hijacking. "Mendez said that he knows hijacking is against the law and that he did not ‘give a ****’ about the other passengers," Wilson’s affidavit said. "When asked if he had ever hijacked a plane before, Mendez said he had not and that this was his coming-out party."

Later investigation revealed that Mendez had broken up with his girlfriend in San Jose, had a history of manic depression and was on psychiatric medications. Burbank Police Chief Anthony Loverme said Mendez seemed okay while he was being held for the FBI, but "had a lot on his mind." Why Hollywood? "He never was really clear about that," Loverme said.

—Eric Pape

Southern Comfort

Here at OffBeat we have taken a

keen interest in Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s ties to the white-supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens. So imagine our surprise when we found a homegrown link to the Southern extremist group in the person of archconservative L.A. Times editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez. As Ramirez acknowledged in an excellent January 26 Times article on Lott’s connections, he spoke to the council about five years ago, during his pre-Times gig at the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Both OffBeat and Ramirez, it turns out, find the 37-year-old Pulitzer winner’s appearance the more puzzling because, as the son of an Asian-American mother and a Latino father, he is a member of ethnic groups that the council trashes. The council warns on its Web site that immigrants are "bringing their inferior cultures." Other council spewings suggest divvying up the nation by race.

Reached at his Times office Wednesday, Ramirez said he had no idea of the extremist views of the group when he spoke. But he has few regrets. "Nobody wants bad publicity, but if this group is what they make it out to be, it was probably good somebody from my ethnic background told them what for," said Ramirez. "If Ted Kennedy and the Kennedy family asked me to speak at their family reunion, I’d probably accept their invitation, that doesn’t mean I endorse any of the political philosophy." The message of his speech, which he has been giving for the last seven years, is anti-racist, Ramirez continued, quoting in part: "We are at the abyss of racial separatism, and it portrays a harrowing threat to the unit of our country." Of course, to say that the biggest racial threat in the U.S. is ethnic balkanization is not the same as challenging white racism. And Lott also defends himself by saying he didn’t know the council’s views — a claim that the Times’ sources poked full of holes in last week’s article.