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Wilson Savors Win; Democrats Assess Damage

November 10, 1994|CATHLEEN DECKER and DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Fresh from the most stunning comeback in California political history, Gov. Pete Wilson moved Wednesday to implement controversial Proposition 187 even as he simultaneously sought to cool the passions that he helped raise with his support of the initiative.

Wilson signed an executive order that would cut off prenatal care and nursing home services to illegal immigrants. At the same time, he warned in a Los Angeles news conference against any show of racial intolerance.

"Let me say very clearly, very simply, that there is no room in California for bigotry, discrimination," Wilson said. "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."

Signaling by his rhetoric that his long-running battle with President Clinton over illegal immigration will extend beyond Election Day, Wilson continued to take defiant jabs at the federal government and sought to reassure voters that he had understood the message of rage delivered so emphatically Tuesday.

"The voters . . . sent a resounding message to Washington that California is not simply a colony of the federal government to be taxed without limit to pay for the cost of the federal failures," he said.

While Wilson was relishing the broadest statewide Republican gains in a generation--changes that will substantially improve his chances of pushing a second-term agenda through the Legislature--the Democratic Party was reeling from defeat, seeking to find something glimmering among the ashes of their efforts.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Kathleen Brown blamed her loss on a tidal wave of anti-Democratic sentiment. She acknowledged that the three attributes that propelled her to the nomination--that she was a woman, a Democrat and a Brown--turned out to be grim liabilities.

"It was clear that if people went into the voting booth voting their anger, their fear and their frustrations, that I couldn't win and the Democrats couldn't win," she said. "And voters went into the voting booth and voted their fears and their frustrations and their anger."

An election cycle that began so confidently for Democrats, on the heels of a 1992 presidential win here for the first time since 1964 and the election of two Democratic senators, ended with defeats more sweeping than almost anyone had expected.

"I'm at a train wreck with no survivors," said Bob Mulholland, the state party's campaign adviser. He was exaggerating, but only slightly.

Wilson, still a relatively unpopular governor in a state whose residents are overwhelmingly negative about where California is going, easily outdistanced Brown, 55% to 40%, according to unofficial returns.

Republicans picked up five statewide offices, three more than they have held for most of the last two decades. Of the two statewide Democratic victories, one--the race for controller--was decided by a 2-point margin. Only Democratic veteran Gray Davis, who was elected lieutenant governor, won convincingly, defeating Republican state Sen. Cathie Wright by 12 percentage points.

The GOP won the governorship and the posts of secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general and insurance commissioner. In unofficial returns, they also drew even with Democrats in the Assembly, apparently winning 40 seats, and came within a whisper of seizing the state Senate and possibly the congressional delegation.

One of the few signs of optimism for Democrats was Dianne Feinstein's apparent reelection to the U.S. Senate by a 47%-45% margin over U.S. Rep. Mike Huffington. Several hundred thousand absentee votes were yet uncounted, but Feinstein was expected to prevail.

In his remarks Wednesday, Wilson asserted that voters had given him a "very clear mandate on issues" that he will pursue in his second term.

"In addition to my own reelection, yesterday's historic gains for the Republican Party are as well a clear sign that the voters want more of the right kind of change, the kind we have been fighting for and the kind we have been working with Democratic majorities to achieve," he said.

"The kind of change that I think people want is for government to do not everything for them but to do those things which they have a right to expect of government and to do them well and to give them priority."

Wilson said his priorities will be improving the job climate, toughening criminal penalties, reforming education and further overhauling the state's welfare system.

But most of his time Wednesday was spent explaining the implementation of Proposition 187. Wilson acknowledged that if the measure is upheld by the courts--on Wednesday a judge already restrained the state from expelling illegal immigrants from schools--it will cause some "dislocation."

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