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Decision '94 / SPECIAL GUIDE TO CALIFORNIA'S ELECTIONS : Governor's Race : THE REPUBLICAN: PETE WILSON

October 30, 1994

PETE WILSON, Republican

* Born: Aug. 23, 1933, Lake Forest, Ill.

* Residence: Sacramento

* Current position: Governor

* Education: Bachelor's degree, Yale University, 1955; Law degree, University of California, Boalt Hall, 1962.

* Career highlights: State Assembly, 1966-71; mayor of San Diego, 1971-82; U.S. senator, 1983-91; governor since 1991.

* Family: Married in 1983 to Gayle Wilson; stepsons Todd and Philip Graham.

Background

Pete Wilson is the incumbent running under the banner of change.

Elected to public office nine times, the former legislator, San Diego mayor and U.S. senator says he wants to complete a job undone.

If elected to a second term, Wilson says, he will try to cut deeper into welfare benefits, enact more laws to stiffen prison sentences for violent criminals and make it easier for companies to do business in California.

The Republican chief executive also says he will try to do in a second term what he vowed to do in his first: shift the emphasis of state government from remediation--cleaning up messes--to preventing problems before they happen.

That goal, which Wilson outlined during his 1990 campaign and in his first speeches as governor, was stymied by an economic recession that depressed tax revenues and left him in a four-year struggle to balance the state budget, which he never did.

*

Born in 1933 in Lake Forest, Ill., near Chicago, Wilson moved with his family to St. Louis, where his father sold advertising. There, the young Wilson attended private schools, dabbling in boxing and football despite his slight stature.

Wilson attended Yale on a Marine Corps ROTC scholarship and, upon graduating with a degree in English literature, went on active duty just after the end of the Korean War. He spent most of his tour in Hawaii as a lieutenant, the executive officer of a rifle company. Wilson entered law school at the University of California's Boalt Hall in 1959.

After graduation, Wilson moved to San Diego and joined the law firm of the father of his former classmate, John Davies. Practicing law for only a short time, he quickly moved into Republican politics and in 1966 was elected to represent San Diego in the state Assembly.

In those days Wilson was a moderate, pushing for a "no-bust" policy for marijuana users and fashioning a comprehensive law to protect the coastline from development, a proposal that failed passage but helped lay the groundwork for what became the California Coastal Commission. In 1971, at age 37, Wilson ran for mayor of San Diego and was elected on a platform to clean up a corrupt municipal government and restrain development in the city's burgeoning suburbs.

*

As mayor, Wilson followed through by pushing for campaign reform--limiting political contributions to $250--and he fashioned a growth management plan for the city that was considered a model for the nation. Wilson tried to expand the powers of his office but was rejected by the voters, so he worked within the existing structure to accomplish his ends, helping to elect allies to the council and engineering the selection of a city manager who would work closely with the mayor's office.

By 1978, when he first ran for governor, Wilson was unquestionably in charge of the city, but he still was little-known statewide, and he took a drubbing in the Republican primary. As he returned to San Diego and set his sights on the next statewide races, Wilson grew closer to the development industry with which he had once been at odds.

In one defining moment, Wilson sided with the builders and against neighborhood groups when the city approved a 40,000-home development on San Diego's northern edge. Opponents said the project was just the sort of suburban sprawl Wilson had pledged to fight, but the mayor said it was a well-planned community that would pay its own way and provide services to its residents.

In 1982, Wilson again geared up to run for governor, but Republican financial backers persuaded him to run for the Senate instead. He won, defeating Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. while championing a ballot initiative known as the "victims bill of rights." It was Wilson's first serious foray into the politics of crime.

*

As a senator, Wilson focused on defense policy and agriculture, two issues near and dear to his state's constituents. He tried to keep weapons contracts flowing to California's defense industry and worked to open international markets for the state's farmers. He also represented agriculture's interests in the immigration reform debate, pushing for provisions that would make it easier for farms to hire foreign migrant workers to pick crops.

Wilson, now 61, ran for governor in 1990, defeating Democrat Dianne Feinstein. He pledged to clean up the state's fiscal mess and work to improve education, protect the environment and fight crime. But the budget problems turned out to be far worse than he feared, all but overwhelming his first term.

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