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
California.

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

won
.

The Latino caucus has done a hugely effective job of
convincing Republicans that immigration is a poisonous
issue.

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
be

painted
with the

Pete Wilson
brush. So tainted, their defeat would be
certain.

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

all costs
.

But what about the 81%
non-Latino
voters?

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
poster boy

Antonio Villaraigosa.

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,
Riverside Professor

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
Professor Bowler.

Bowler said that “Simon`s decision to ask Wilson
to publicly endorse him could drive Hispanics—who
traditionally vote Democratic anyway—to vote against
him.”

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
policy—be it
social security
,

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
catching flak.

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
issues.

And although it is too late for the aforementioned,
future immigration-shy candidates should take stock of
Colorado Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo`s showing
this week.

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.

During a

wild and crazy
two-week period following Tancredo`s
bold stand, the Post and every Hispanic advocacy
group in the U.S.

hurled barbs and slurs his way
.

Not only did their feeble and unfounded charges of
“racism” not hurt Tancredo, they helped him. Tancredo,
who received

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
the heart."

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.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.