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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR : State Economy Is on Upswing, Wilson Says : Incumbent also receives endorsements from Mayor Richard Riordan and former baseball commissioner Peter V. Ueberroth.


Trumpeting a message distinctly different from the pessimistic note he struck for most of his first term, Gov. Pete Wilson on Tuesday contended that the long-foundering California economy is on its way back--and he brought in two high-profile supporters to vouch for him.

In Chatsworth, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan offered his formal endorsement to the incumbent. Hours later in Anaheim, former baseball commissioner and 1984 Olympics czar Peter Ueberroth seconded the motion with his endorsement.

Neither move came as a shock, since all three men are Republicans. But they carried a small measure of suspense because Ueberroth has endorsed Democrats, including Dianne Feinstein in the current race for U.S. Senate, and Riordan not only won a nonpartisan office in a largely Democratic city but also has hired Democrats to work in his Administration.

Riordan's endorsement was accompanied by a bit of insider's intrigue because the man who ran his successful mayoral campaign, Clint Reilly, is now running the effort of Wilson's challenger, Democrat Kathleen Brown. Riordan and Brown also share an influential pair of behind-the-scenes advisers, attorneys William and Kim Wardlaw.

Nevertheless, the mayor was effusive in his praise of Wilson.

"I'm doing this because he's shown the kind of leadership that was needed to turn California around," Riordan told San Fernando Valley business leaders meeting in Chatsworth. "Pete Wilson has the integrity and the guts to lead this state into the future."

Riordan entirely omitted any mention of Brown, and came close to comparing the two office-seekers only when he moved to the issue of crime: "Pete Wilson understands, as I do, that a tough stance against crime is not just rhetoric."

Both Riordan and Ueberroth gave Wilson credit for helping to turn the state around, which is the governor's theme as the last weeks of his reelection campaign tick down.

As Ueberroth put it at an Anaheim campaign stop, "California needs a person who is strong right now."

The upbeat framing of California's economic environment starkly contrasts with the governor's negative comments through much of his term in office. Shortly after he was sworn in, Wilson began lamenting what he termed government interference that further harmed an already shaky economy. As the state dropped into a recession, Wilson had a ready list of culprits, from the workers' compensation system to government red tape to greedy lawyers.

On Tuesday, the first day of a two-day swing that was scheduled to include a host of business success stories, Wilson was openly hopeful. He credited changes wrought by his Administration and the Legislature with sparking a state resurgence.

"When we came to this office, it was very clear that the workers' compensation system was driving jobs out of California wholesale," Wilson told small business owners at an early morning gathering in Hollywood. "We had a system notoriously corrupted, shot through with fraud. It was a national disgrace.

"We were able to bring about reform."

Wilson said that in his first term business taxes were dropped, new incentives were adopted and regulations governing businesses were streamlined. Business leaders, he said--and Ueberroth and Riordan concurred--are more hopeful.

"We are hearing announcements up and down the state that people are staying, they are growing," Wilson said in Hollywood.

Wilson took pains Tuesday to sketch out some plans for a second term--tort reform and no-fault insurance legislation, for example--and made only backhanded slaps at his challenger Brown.

In Hollywood, where Wilson accepted the endorsement of the California branch of the National Federation of Independent Business, he criticized Brown as a tool of labor and trial lawyers. He specifically cited her opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement and her support for a health care plan that would require businesses to pick up insurance costs for their employees.

For those in the audience with long political memories, he also criticized her support for the failed 1990 environmental initiative known as Big Green. And he derided her newly released economic plan as one that would increase taxes on Californians. Brown and her campaign aides say that broad-based taxes would not be necessary and that much of her plan would be financed by bonds.

"We don't need expanded government services," Wilson said. "We don't need the kind that will result in more and more debt."

For Wilson, the endorsement by Riordan was the return of a political favor. The governor endorsed Riordan early in his race for mayor, a gesture that was included in mailers sent to prospective voters.

Wilson denied Tuesday that Riordan's decision to endorse him so late in the election cycle was an indication that the mayor had been under pressure from Brown partisans to hold back the endorsement.

"I don't think you very successfully twist Dick Riordan's arm," he said, calling Riordan "a very good political reader of tea leaves. He knows that people are paying more attention in October than they are in June or February."

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