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Democratic Wipeout, Voter Anger and California's Challenge : The election apparently marks a new era in politics, and one that demands a new integrity in political life

November 10, 1994

The political aftershocks continue, from the halls of Capitol Hill to the State House in Sacramento. Nov. 8, 1994, marked the back-to-the-future election, the biggest change in Washington since Dwight D. Eisenhower was President.

The Grand Old Party, typically affiliated with the status quo, became the party of change. President Clinton was dealt what could only be charitably described as a slap in the face as most of the candidates he personally campaigned for fell in defeat. Senate Democrats Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Charles S. Robb, who was facing Iran-Contra prevaricator Oliver L. North in Virginia's race for the Senate, were among the exceptions.

Republicans now hold majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and a majority of the 50 governors is now Republican.

National Democratic stars such as Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York and Gov. Ann Richards of Texas are out, replaced by relative GOP unknowns like George Pataki, as well as by GOP royalty like George W. Bush, son of the former President.

The Democrats took body blows at every level. Even the House majority leader, Democrat Thomas S. Foley of Washington, couldn't win a seat in Congress Tuesday, though Republican Sonny Bono (late of Sonny and Cher) could.

Voters were in an exasperated and surly mood. Plainly, Americans want government to deliver, even if they are not always clear on exactly what they want delivered. Let the new GOP majority be warned: Everything in Tuesday's vote indicates that if voters don't get satisfaction, the electorate will seek more vengeance at the polls two years from now.

WILSON'S HUGE CALIFORNIA CHALLENGE: Here in California Gov. Pete Wilson has won reelection, and he won big. His significant victory over Treasurer Kathleen Brown has fueled speculation that Wilson already is running for a bigger political prize, the White House. However, he must face a more immediate concern--governing California after an election season that clearly revealed the deep fissures along the state's ethnic, racial and class lines.

This is the challenge that confronts Wilson: Will he put campaigning behind him now and govern as the moderate leader of all Californians or will he continue in campaign mode, which can only deepen the scars left from the divisive campaign for Proposition 187? Wilson's words on Wednesday were right: " . . . there is no room in California for bigotry, discrimination. We will continue to condemn intolerance. We will continue to protect individual rights. This is a commitment we make to all Californians without regard to ethnic origin or skin color. It applies regardless of whether the English they speak is with an accent."

But the actions Wilson took early Wednesday were not nearly so encouraging. He issued an executive order to begin implementation of the measure that will cut off social services to illegal immigrants, including an immediate cutoff of prenatal health care. He also attempted to define what under Proposition 187 would be a "reasonably suspect" person: one who fails to provide documentation of legal residency. But what exactly does that mean? Would a driver's license with an address be enough to satisfy law enforcement officials?

The Times strongly opposed Proposition 187, for the wrongheaded way it attempted to "Do Something" about illegal immigration. The inherent unfairness of Latinos being targeted as "reasonably suspect" for no reason other than ethnicity, the unanswered questions about how it would be implemented and the lawsuits expected to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court were just three of many reasons.

Proposition 187 passed with large support, by a 59% vote, a strong measure of just how much voters are demanding that politicians focus on the very real problem of illegal immigration. The measure received a majority vote only from whites but was astoundingly close among Asian Americans (54% against to 46% for) and African Americans (56% against to 44% for). Among Latino voters, the measure failed big, 78% to 22%. That disparity reflects one of those fissures Wilson must now address--constructively, as the governor, not as a candidate. For instance, California's population is at least one-quarter Latino, but only 8% of those who voted Tuesday were Latino. That fact is distressing and serves no one's long-term interests. It is a question for Wilson and all of California's other political leaders: how best to register more Latinos and thus encourage greater participation--and power--at the polls.

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