Pete Wilson Still Looms Large

Politics UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Former Gov. Pete Wilson Still Looms Large in California Politics

It’s been 20 years years since San Diego’s Pete Wilson served as governor of California, but this week his presence loomed large in state politics.

A screenshot of a video released by the California Legislative Caucus remembering Wilson and the legacy of Prop. 187.

This post originally appeared in the Nov. 1 Sacramento Report. Get the Sacramento Report delivered to your inbox.

It’s been 20 years years since San Diego’s Pete Wilson served as governor of California, but this week his presence loomed large in state politics.

A new Los Angeles Times podcast released this week examines the enduring impact of Prop. 187, the measure championed by Wilson that vilified immigrants and sought to bar them from many aspects of public life.

The measure passed, but was ruled unconstitutional by a judge in 1997. By that time, a Democratic governor opted to stop defending it. But the measure, of course, lived on in other ways.

“The hard feelings against immigrants — most notably those in the country illegally, but if we’re honest, not always — was tapped all the way to the White House by one Donald Trump,” writes the Times’ Gustavo Arellano.

The California Legislative Caucus, meanwhile, had its own way of remembering Wilson and the legacy of Prop. 187.

The group released a video this week called “Thank You, Pete Wilson.”

“You scapegoated immigrants like my mom and dad in order to secure re-election,” San Diego Sen. Ben Hueso says in the video. Other Latino lawmakers in the video explain how the measure galvanized them to become public officials. Now Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature.

“Because of Proposition 187, I went to law school and came here to Sacramento,” says Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez in the video. Gonzalez chairs the powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee and is a candidate for secretary of state in 2022.

Assemblyman Todd Gloria says Prop. 187 offers “a roadmap on how to fight back against racist, xenophobic policies.”

Meanwhile, San Juan Capistrano Mayor Bryan Maryott, a Republican who’s challenging Democratic Rep. Mike Levin in the 49th Congressional District, touted an endorsement from Wilson this week. His campaign cast Wilson’s legacy much differently: “The Republican former California governor, U.S. senator and mayor of San Diego garnered significant bipartisan support and popularity, in a blue state, during his years in office,” campaign manager Richard Hernandez wrote in a press release.

Correction: An earlier version of this post improperly attributed a quote praising Pete Wilson; the quote came from Brian Maryott campaign manager Richard Hernandez.

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