The appearance of a March 23 portrayal of former California Governor Pete Wilson at the Los Angeles Times, though probably coincidental, is quite serendipitous. Six days after the alleged rape at a Maryland high school of a 14 year-old freshman girl at the hands of two late-teen classmates in the U.S. illegally, Times writer Mark Z. Barabak went after Wilson for his support of that state’s Proposition 187, a 1994 initiative passed overwhelmingly by voters, whose purpose “was to make immigrants residing in the country without legal permission ineligible for public benefits.”
Barabak wants readers buy his preferred narrative, namely that the supposedly racist initiative was responsible for Wilson’s reelection, and that Wilson’s stand led to the disastrous decline in the Republican Party’s fortunes in California during the following two decades (bolds are mine throughout this post; HT longtime commenter Gary Hall):
By most accounts, Wilson was quite successful during eight years as governor, leaving the state in better shape than he found it, though he takes issue with that assessment. “No,” he said, “a hell of a lot better.”
… If Wilson is renowned for one thing, however, it is Proposition 187, the controversial ballot measure that sought to stem illegal immigration and address its costs by cutting off state services, including healthcare and public education, to those in the country illegally.
Wilson didn’t draft the measure, nor did he place it on the November 1994 ballot. But he became the foremost champion and central character — or villain — in a narrative that goes something like this:
His reelection apparently doomed, Wilson seized on the provocative initiative and, through a racist campaign, tapped the latent bigotry of Californians to rescue his flailing candidacy, a Pyrrhic victory that has badly damaged Republicans by alienating Latinos in the state and nationwide ever since.
… He started his reelection campaign as a distinct underdog, trailing by as much as 20 points in preference polls. He was helped considerably by his tough-on-immigration stance, which came after years spent hectoring Washington for not securing the country’s borders and foisting billions in costs on states like California.
It seems that no liberal’s attempt to render political history survives contact with the facts. Barabak’s effort is no exception.
The claim that Wilson started his reelection campaign as a prohibitive underdog is rubbish — unless we’re supposed to believe that gubernatorial reelection campaigns begin 20 months before Election Day.
Yes, Wilson trailed badly in reelection polls — in March of 1993. By mid-September, still almost 14 months out, his deficit was only 8 points to his presumptive rival Kathleen Brown. A September 17, 1993 front-page story in the (yes) Los Angeles Times reported that “If the election were held today, Brown, who remains the favorite for her party’s nomination, would beat Wilson by 8 points.” Wilson ultimately defeated Brown by 14 points.
Barabak conveniently doesn’t tell readers when Wilson actually endorsed 187. In January 2016, Bill Whalen at Forbes.com gave us that answer, which is: September 1993. In other words, most of the governor’s political recovery occurred prior to that endorsement.
Barabak’s next paragraph genuinely explains Wilson’s win:
But Wilson also benefited greatly from his leadership after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake and the wretched campaign run by his Democratic rival, Brown’s sister, Kathleen, which lacked focus and ultimately ran out of cash.
After that, the reporter began a tired, 14-paragraph inquisition directed at Wilson, which can be summarized in my words as follows: “Weren’t you (or your supporters, or at least some of your supporters, or at least some people driven by ‘the darker angels of human nature’) racist in voting for 187?”
Naturally, Barabak failed to note that Prop 187 passed by an overwhelming 59 percent to 41 percent margin, and that it even garnered one-third support from Hispanics.
The reason 187 never became law is that after a federal judge blocked it, court delays pushed resolution past the end of Wilson’s second term, and his Democratic successor, defying voters’ clearly declared will, stopped fighting it. It is absolutely not true that the courts threw out the measure in a precedent-setting manner. Even the New York Times recognized in 2010 that 187 “was passed in 1994 but never carried out because of legal setbacks and political opposition” — i.e., it was never nullified by the courts.
At Forbes.com, Whalen also explained Wilson’s strategy in supporting 187:
Wilson had a different end game in mind: he anticipated 187’s passage sparking a challenge as to its constitutionality that ultimately would force the Supreme Court to revisit 1982’s Plyler v. Doe ruling that granted education to all children regardless of their parent’s immigration status.
But that didn’t happen. Wilson’s successor, Democrat Gray Davis (later to lose in the 2003 recall election), cut a deal with civil rights organizations ending the legal proceedings. Nor did the Republican-led Congress, like Prop 187 a product of 1994’s conservative revolt, go to work on immigration reform – just as, two years later, it steered clear of California’s Proposition 209 and the debate over racial quotas.
Bottom line: if victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan, then Prop 187 was the opposite – a winner at the polls promptly orphaned by the GOP establishment in California and elsewhere, save Wilson.
A better argument about the decline of the GOP in California is that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who succeeded Davis in the 2003 recall vote, squandered the opportunity Davis’s incompetence and mendacity presented by failing to govern as a conservative, or even as a moderate.
This brings us back to the illegal-immigrant rape case in Maryland, where the admission of two late-teens into a high school freshman class is being justified as a mandated result of the Plyler v. Doe ruling. In that case, the Supreme Court declared that the State of Texas had no “compelling governmental interest” in denying enrollment to children of illegal immigrants.
The Court did not consider the potential impact their ruling might have in the real world, but instead focused entirely on the negative consequences to the children of illegals of “the deprivation of public education”:
The deprivation of public education is not like the deprivation of some other governmental benefit. Public education has a pivotal role in maintaining the fabric of our society and in sustaining our political and cultural heritage; the deprivation of education takes an inestimable toll on the social, economic, intellectual, and psychological wellbeing of the individual, and poses an obstacle to individual achievement. In determining the rationality of the Texas statute, its costs to the Nation and to the innocent children may properly be considered.
Both Texas in 1982 and California’s Prop 187 proponents in 1994 primarily focused on financial costs. After 35 years of experience with the results of Plyler v. Doe, we can, and should, look the financial and non-financial “costs to the Nation and to the innocent children” which have been and are still being incurred by families who are citizens and their children.
Certainly one of the costs being incurred by children who are citizens as a result of far older illegal immigrants in the classroom is reduced personal safety. The educational establishment, with establishment press cooperation, has been extraordinarily negligent in dealing with this and reporting on this, respectively, for decades. The determination to keep these matters covered up could hardly be more obvious.
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.