View From Lodi, CA: Bring Back Pete Wilson!
What do Dan Lungren, Tom Campbell, Matt Fong and
Bill Simon have in common?
If you answered that all four were California
Republican challengers for governor or U.S. Senator, you
are partially correct.
If you added that Democrats Gray Davis, Dianne
Feinstein and Barbara Boxer diced them into mincemeat,
your response is better but still incomplete.
The most thorough answer would include the fact that
Lungren, Campbell, Fong and Simon studiously
avoided mentioning immigration even though it is
–directly and indirectly—the most important issue in
Amazingly, if any among that sorry group had been able to
muster up the courage to force an immigration debate
into the open, he might have
The Latino caucus has done a hugely effective job of
convincing Republicans that immigration is a poisonous
Latino special interest groups have sold Republicans
on the idea that if candidates utter “immigration,” they
will be demonized. Candidates, so they are advised, will
painted with the
Pete Wilson brush. So tainted, their defeat would be
Nothing could be further from the truth as a close
examination of the facts will prove.
Assuming that California Republicans set out to win
elections—and winning is, I believe, the goal of
politics—then let`s look at Pete Wilson.
Whatever you may think of Wilson, he is the last
Republican to win any major California office. Wilson
was governor from 1991 to 1999, in the U.S. Senate from
1983-1991, San Diego`s mayor from 1971-1983 and a
California state assemblyman from 1967-1971. Wilson`s
record as a successful politician is hard to top.
In 1994 Wilson, who was trailing challenger Kathleen
Brown early in the race, ran a campaign ad that showed
illegal aliens crossing the California/Mexico border and
fleeing north in the southbound lane of I-5. “They keep
coming,” proclaimed the text.
Wilson`s opponents found the spot offensive. But it
was successful and underlined the concern that
Californians have about illegal immigration. Wilson went
on to rout Brown.
In retrospect can anyone challenge the ad`s accuracy?
If you use the generally accepted figure of 10,000
illegal border crossers daily, in the eight years
since Wilson`s 1994 re-election more than 3 million have
indeed “kept coming.”
Okay, the Latino caucus doesn`t like Wilson. To
anyone who will listen, the caucus loudly proclaims that
Wilson is a racist and a xenophobe. And the Caucus
wouldn`t like any candidate who might adopt Wilson`s
anti-illegal immigration stance.
But so what? The N.R.A. doesn`t like
Hillary Clinton and
Planned Parenthood doesn`t like George Bush. In
politics, everyone has an axe to grind. So the Latinos`
dislike of Wilson should carry no special weight.
We`re talking politics, not a walk on the beach.
We`re also talking about winning, not making nice.
And winning is one thing that California Republicans
are not doing.
We are constantly
reminded that Latino voters are registering at a
rapid rate and now make up 19% of the total. They are
the state`s fastest growing voting block. Everyone wants
to appease the Latino block at
But what about the 81%
That 81%-strong group of blacks, whites and Asians
has demonstrated a definite interest in reducing
immigration. Witness the 2001 Los Angeles
mayoral race wherein James Hahn defeated Latino
I`m flabbergasted by the hatchet job still being done
on Wilson. That the media lets Wilson`s enemies get away
with it is even more dumbfounding.
Here is a good example. University of California,
Shaun Bowler wrote that Simon made a critical error
in inviting Wilson to join him in the final days of his
campaign. Wilson`s association with Proposition 187
would be the kiss of death for Simon, according to
Bowler said that “Simon`s decision to ask Wilson
to publicly endorse him could drive Hispanics—who
traditionally vote Democratic anyway—to vote against
In slamming Wilson, Bowler has inadvertently revealed
the truth. Hispanic votes are not in play for
Republicans. The Los Angeles Times recently
reported that even Gray Davis`s veto of the
controversial bill that would have allowed
illegal aliens to obtain driver`s licenses didn`t
hurt him among Hispanic voters. They will vote
Democratic by a 2-1 margin regardless of Davis`s veto.
Simons should have campaigned with Wilson at his
side from day one. If he had, he`d be on his way to the
Governor`s mansion in Sacramento.
In the final analysis, criticism of any federal
Medicare or immigration– is perfectly acceptable
and should be encouraged in a democracy. Wilson`s
opinions about illegal immigration—then and now—reflect
the attitudes of millions of Californians.
Furthermore, as governor, Wilson`s sworn duty was to
uphold the law. For that Wilson, a lawyer, is still
If I were Lungren, Campbell, Fong or Simon—none of
whom had an original idea in his platform–I would have
given hard thought to adding immigration to my list of
And although it is too late for the aforementioned,
future immigration-shy candidates should take stock of
Colorado Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo`s showing
Late this summer, Tancredo suggested that the I.N.S.
investigate the immigration status of one Jesus Apodaca,
a local high-school graduate. The Denver Post and
the Mexican Consulate in Denver were pushing for
in-state tuition for Apodaca.
Not only did their feeble and unfounded charges of
“racism” not hurt Tancredo, they helped him. Tancredo,
68% of the vote, said his wide margin of victory
"shows you can talk about immigration and controversial
issues and still survive and succeed if you talk from
Here`s a final compelling thought about politics,
immigration and Pete Wilson: given the California
electorate`s mood, had Pete Wilson been running against
the pro-illegal immigration Davis this week, Wilson
would have won by a landslide.
Wilson may be a pariah to some. But to many others he
remains a hero.