The Parable Of The Prodigal Wilson
November 20, 2002, 04:00 AM
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In my column last week, I wrote that former California governor Pete Wilson, because of his fierce stand eight years ago against illegal immigration, is probably the most popular Republican in the state.

Wilson acquired his mantle by default. Neither of the Republicans who have since run for governor—Dan Lungren and Bill Simon—has stirred the voter`s passions. And the same goes for defeated Senate candidates Matt Fong and Tom Campbell.

And, if it is all the same to you, I`m not ready to jump on the Arnold Schwarzenegger bandwagon just yet. Although Schwarzenegger`s Proposition 49 won, I consider that a minor victory. In California, all you have to do is label something "for the kids" and people vote yes.

The question I posed a week ago was whether recent Republican candidates for California high office were serious about winning - or merely going through the motions hoping for a miracle.

No California politician attempting to unseat an incumbent has a prayer if he is too intimidated to mention the financial and emotional costs of runaway immigration.

That Lungren, Fong, Campbell and Simon were handily defeated proves my point. All avoided mentioning immigration—which ranks #1 on the list of concerns of most Californians—and paid for their political correctness with stinging defeats.

In an e-mail, faithful VDARE.COM reader Byron Slater from San Diego reminded me that early in his career, Wilson was pro-immigration.

Slater, of the Border Solution Task Force, pointed out that when Wilson was San Diego`s mayor in the 1970s, he endorsed a "no support" position regarding arresting illegal aliens i.e. his city government wouldn`t help enforce the law.

And in the 1980s, then-Senator Wilson submitted several bills proposing to renew the old bracero-type guest worker programs. One of Wilson`s versions, which would have allowed 350,000 agricultural guest workers into the U.S., was passed by the Senate.

But by the mid-1990s, when Wilson was governor of California, immigration`s financial impact on the state was unmistakable. And the alarming trend in unfettered immigration weighed on voter`s minds.

So Wilson took the initiative, hammered away at the costs of illegal immigration and in his 1994 re-election race against Kathleen Brown, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Until two months before Election Day, Wilson was no more popular in California than Gray Davis is today.

This might make Wilson appear the most cynical of politicians: trailing in the polls, he grabs onto an emotionally-charged issue and rides it down the home stretch to finish first.

Maybe California Republicans should get more cynical!

But a problem with this explanation is that California of the early 1970s and 1980s was not the same as California of the mid-1990s. By the time Wilson ran for his second term, immigration had transformed the once-Golden State. The problems caused by immigration when Wilson was San Diego mayor and U.S. Senator appear quaint in comparison with those caused by the invasion that began in the 1990s.

In his 1998 book The California Cauldron: Immigration and the Fortunes of Local Communities, U.C.L.A. professor William A.V. Clark charted the changes that came over the state slowly beginning in 1965 and which accelerated throughout the next three decades. (Professor Clark`s findings are summarized in a Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder, "Immigration and California Communities.")

Among Clark`s conclusions is that, while politicians and voters have not focused on immigration per se, immigration-related issues grow more compelling every year. Of the hundreds of facts Clark points to in his book, here is a handful:

  • More than four million new immigrants were counted in California in the last decade.


  • In Los Angeles, more than a quarter of all foreign born live in poverty.

Although immigration has become an even more overwhelming issue in California since Wilson left office, since then no politician has been willing to touch it.

But if immigration reform was a winner for Wilson in 1994, imagine what it would be today for any politician with the guts to stand up for the people`s will!

I believe the 2002 election had lessons aplenty for California Republicans:

  • Refuse to discuss immigration and you will most certainly lose, especially if you are trying to unseat an incumbent.

  • Campaign on immigration reform and the scams associated with illegal immigration and you have an excellent chance of winning.

As examples, see the overwhelming victory of the much-denounced Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo. But also take note of Georgia Governor Ray Barnes` defeat. Remember that Barnes led a contingent of Georgia business men to visit Vicente Fox and later in his term vigorously favored driver`s licenses for illegal aliens.

Republican Elizabeth Dole who spoke out against benefits to illegal aliens in her brief run for the presidential nomination in 2000 won a landslide victory for the North Carolina Senate.

Tennessee`s Marsha Blackburn linked the soaring costs of public service programs to the state`s rising numbers of illegal aliens. Blackburn was elected to Congress with over 70% of the vote.

Last but certainly not least, let all future office seekers note that the much-ballyhooed theory of the importance of the Latino vote was a total bust.

In her October 28 New York Times Op-ed titled "A Voting Bloc Without a Party," Tamar Jacoby, still being auditioned for the post of Establishment "Conservative" immigration enthusiasm enforcer, wrote about why both Republicans and Democrats need to "woo" and "court" Latino voters.

But as things turned out, a better title for Jacoby`s piece would have been, "A Voting Bloc That Doesn`t Vote."

The Latino advocacy groups continue to fire blanks. Unfortunately, our political elite continues to listen.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.