Musings on the Coast


The Future Is Now

By Michael Ray
By Michael Ray

It is 1994. California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson is running for re-election. He is losing. His challenger is Democratic state Treasurer Kathleen Brown. Kathleen is scary smart, beautiful, articulate and more: she is part of the illustrious Brown family political dynasty. Her brother is former (and current) Gov. Jerry Brown, and her father is the legendary former Gov. Pat Brown. She seems inevitable.

All the polls show her ahead by 20%. Pete Wilson can’t find traction.

The major issue was the economy. In 1994, California was in its fifth year of a devastating commercial real estate collapse. Banks and S&LS had gone broke in a long, slow agonizing march. Credit was impossible. The state budget was compressed. Unemployment was high. People were afraid.

As the challenger, Kathleen Brown could attack incumbent Pete Wilson.   The economy had collapsed under his watch and she could point the finger of blame straight at him.

Wilson had to find another angle, something to change the subject and resonate with frightened voters.

His campaign took a look at undocumented Latino workers. At that time, the Latino population in California was growing like a weed and many were gravitating to the Republican Party and its conservative, some might say Catholic, family values.

But Republican polling found the perfect angle. It found that with the economic unease, white voters leaned toward believing undocumented workers were a major drag on them, that Latinos were lazy, on the dole.   [Statistically, this was and is not true. Undocumented workers pay far more into taxes then they got out of the government, both state and national. This always has been true but never has stopped the fear].

In light of this information, how could Gov. Wilson turn around his campaign? It was easy.   His supporters sponsored a statewide initiative playing on white insecurity. It was called Prop. 187 and officially titled Save Our State (SOS).   For undocumented workers and their families, it would deny them all forms of state assistance or funding of any kind. They could not attend primary school. They could not attend state colleges or universities. If the local police suspected someone of being undocumented, his department must report such to U.S. immigration for deportation.

It was low-down, racist and tacky. Further, Pete Wilson was and is a decent and feeling man. He was not and is not a bigot. Supporting this initiative was not in his blood. But he found a way to justify it in his own mind. He had to. It was his only way to win.

Here is what he found: his legal advisors carefully read the initiative and told him it would be declared unconstitional. It had no legal chance. So he found his justification: he could support it because in the real world, it never would be enacted.

Prop. 187 overwhelming won (59-41) and swept Pete Wilson back into office on its back. (And yes, it was found unconstitutional and never enacted.)

But there was a but. There was a cost to the victory. It permanently alienated Cali Latinos from the Republican Party. Today California, which steadily is becoming more Latino, is so overwhelming Democratic there is not one elected Republican to the top statewide offices. Not one. Prop. 187 won one campaign for Republicans, but lost them generations of Latino support and the power that comes from that.

The OC is not immune. Today, only 43% of its citizens are white and diminishing. We along the beach do not feel it as much but the rest of the OC does, and with the rising Latino population, Democrats slowly are gaining ascendency.

There is a point to all this. National demographics quickly are following California’s lead. In a few years, whites nationally will be a minority. Even in ever-so-Republican Texas, it is only a matter of (maybe) a decade that Democrats will take over.

As for now, there is a presidential campaign and all the Republican candidates are using the same basic tactic as Wilson. Care to know the results in 20 years?

Look at California now.



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