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SPECIAL REPORT : The State of California : Political FORCAST : Wilson Can Be a Hero--IF, and That's a Big Word

December 30, 1990|Jeff Levin | Political Forecast interviews were conducted by Jeff Levin, a free-lance writer in Santa Monica who has worked in government in New York, Washington, and Los Angeles : Four years from now, will Gov . Pete Wilson be a hero or a bum? And why? The Times asked eight government officials and political observers

Ed McLaughlin, farmer and chairman, Butte County Board of Supervisors:

As a local government official, I certainly hope four years from today Pete Wilson is regarded as a hero. His experiences as a city mayor, a state assemblyman and a U.S. senator make him the best-prepared governor-elect in 40 years to tackle the tasks that lie ahead.

His task of rebuilding our confidence in California's future on a wide range of issues, from environmental concerns to the state's fiscal stability, do not lie totally within his control. To be successful, he must communicate and strike frequent compromises with an often-hostile Legislature led by an equally strong and determined Speaker of the Assembly, whose priorities are often at odds with the governor's.

. . . In the past, Wilson has demonstrated that he can work with diverse special-interest groups at any level of government and bring them together to develop workable solutions. We are all hoping and praying that he can use that "Midas touch" once again as we enter a challenging new decade.

John M. Dominguez, community action program chairperson, United Auto Workers Local 645, Van Nuys:

We didn't support Wilson because of his poor record on labor issues--for example, his lack of support for worker-safety legislation. In spite of his past, we're looking forward to working with him to deal with the problems facing workers.

Wilson has inherited a state with growing unemployment caused by the loss of good-paying industrial jobs to foreign competition, lack of capital for investment and a shifting of work to southern states and/or maquiladora plants in Mexico. California is also suffering from the effects of the nationwide recession.

Areas where Wilson can have an important impact--accessible education for future workers, retraining present workers, health and safety and investment in technology--will be key to the future economic growth of California. The fight for a state health-care program is going to be a good opportunity for the new governor to demonstrate leadership.

The question is: Can Pete Wilson rise above his party's shortsighted policies?

Terry Friedman, member of the California Assembly (D-Los Angeles):

Wilson returns to a California in decline. Los Angeles is the gang and cocaine capital of the world. Our schools are failing. Infant mortality approaches Third World levels.

These problems are of our own making. Voters have chosen lower taxes over safe streets, good schools and healthy children. We cannot build the society we want without paying for it.

Wilson has the temperament and experience to be a hero. He's a doer, a pragmatist. California will prosper again if he soundly invests more money in law enforcement, children, health care, the environment. If Richard Nixon could go to China, Pete Wilson can raise taxes.

H. Eric Schockman,associate director, Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC:

. . . The California governor's office is quickly approaching "institutional meltdown." The voters of this state have not seen an activist governor since the days of Edmund G. (Pat) Brown and Earl Warren. An entire generation of voters have grown up with a succession of administrative caretakers.

Is it any wonder that the electorate now wants to further "Balkanize" the governorship--pulling out power from its traditional domain of insurance oversight and environmental regulation? Unless Wilson can capture the high ground of leadership and tackle the dragons of, say, a state health-care policy, be prepared for yet another initiative battle and perhaps a new health "czar" elected by the people.

Wilson must furthermore stop the hemorrhaging and divisiveness that public policy has produced in this state. As the Soviet Union may break apart, so, too, is California poised to continue to splinter into rival encampments: urban vs. rural; north vs. south. A Wilson-led, balanced state water policy would certainly mend the "water wars." Bottom line, Wilson has a Herculean task in securing a place in the California history books.

Shirley Weber,president of the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education and chair of the Afro-American Studies Department at San Diego State University

Wilson has initially done something good by elevating education to cabinet-level status and appointing Maureen DiMarco to that job. He's at least focused on children, and that's the key.

The question is, can he hold fast in the midst of all of the other demands? Can he convince the Legislature and rally the people of California to understand that we have to put more resources into prevention?

The reality is that we are not judged by the number of students we send to Harvard; we are judged by the number of dropouts. We are judged by what we do for the least of our children.

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