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Wilson Defiant Over Immigration Issue : Politics: Governor says Democrats can 'kiss my rear end' in response to comments challenging his record in light of hard-line proposals made last week. He denies opposition's charges that he has flip-flopped on the matter.


SACRAMENTO — Reacting to Democratic Party leaders' threats to wrap the illegal immigration issue around his neck if he doesn't back off in his criticism, Gov. Pete Wilson challenged Democrats on Wednesday to "kiss my rear end if they can leap that high."

The Republican governor, speaking at a Capitol news conference, was reacting to comments made by state Democratic Party political director Bob Mulholland, who two days ago unveiled a television ad accusing Wilson of flip-flopping on the issue since his days as a U.S. senator. Mulholland also warned Wilson against making illegal immigration an issue in his 1994 reelection campaign.

But the governor was having none of it Wednesday. In comments made in Sacramento and before a business group in the San Fernando Valley, he defended his immigration record in the Senate, saying it was House Democrats who had rewritten his bill to make it easier for agricultural migrant workers to become legal residents. As for the threat by Democratic leaders, Wilson was succinct:

"They can kiss my rear end if they can leap that high from the low road where they are dwelling habitually."

Afterward, Mulholland held his own impromptu news conference. Asked if he would kiss Wilson's rear end, he said: "No, he's too short. I am too tall for him. It was a sign of a little man to personally attack me."

Mulholland also distributed literature that he said backed up his contention that Wilson had changed his policy on immigration.

Wednesday's exchanges underscored the increasingly partisan nature of the illegal immigration debate in California. The governor last week unveiled a series of provocative proposals to discourage illegal immigration, which Wilson says is costing the state up to $3 billion a year.

Among other things, Wilson called for a constitutional amendment denying citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants as well as abolishment of public education, health care (except in emergencies) and welfare to illegal immigrants and their children.

Critics have accused Wilson, whose approval rating in the latest Field Poll of California hovered at 15%, of bashing illegal immigrants to score political points, an accusation Wilson says is false.

The governor showed no sign of letting up Wednesday, inviting President Clinton to accompany him on a tour of the border to get a firsthand look at illegal immigration, similar to the tour U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno received Tuesday in San Ysidro while accompanied by Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

In the morning, Wilson urged more than 100 members of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. to join his fight against illegal immigration.

Unless federal laws that Wilson says reward illegal immigration are rescinded, "then why have a Border Patrol?" an exasperated Wilson told the business crowd.

If "Congress had only half the courage" of the illegal immigrants who often risk their lives to enter the United States, it would amend the federal immigration laws extending health and welfare benefits to illegal immigrants or their children, Wilson said. The latter remark drew applause from the audience, gathered to attend a workshop on the effects of the state's recently enacted workers' compensation reforms.

Gillam reported from Sacramento and Schwada from Los Angeles.

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