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CAPITOL JOURNAL

For Wilson, New Friends in High Places

November 17, 1994|GEORGE SKELTON

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Pete Wilson is rested, relaxed and ready for Washington--not as a wanna-be President, but as a newly empowered Republican seeking help in implementing Proposition 187.

Normally a workaholic, the governor celebrated his lopsided, come-from-behind reelection victory last weekend by just hanging around the house and going out to a movie ("Clear and Present Danger"). On Sunday, he was a couch potato glued to the TV, watching his favorite NFL team, the San Diego Chargers, nip the Kansas City Chiefs in a 14-13 thriller.

He has been laying low and recharging after a grueling campaign. But today he flies to Washington to deliver a new California message, born of the 187 fight: "California is not simply a colony to be taxed to pay for federal failure."

Wilson also is taking along other pithy sound bites for TV bookings, a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation and a conference of victorious GOP governors in Williamsburg, Va. Such as: "It's time for the federal government to get off our backs and out of our pockets." "Washington should hear California's call and wake up." "Set the states free."

And, "We must unleash government in the service of those who work hard, pay their taxes and obey the law."

Such rhetoric is sure to tantalize pundits and politicos into further conjecture about a 1996 presidential bid. Wilson publicly has ruled that out and refuses to discuss it, apparently believing any additional comments merely would escalate the speculation.

If somebody presses him, as I did Tuesday, he may say: "I just won the job I was seeking and am looking forward to doing it." For four years? "Yeah."

*

The governor especially is looking forward to doing his job now that fellow Republicans are about to seize control of Congress and the state Assembly. Indeed, the most important part of his Washington trip for California will be two private meetings with the incoming congressional leaders: Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas.

Wilson will urge Gingrich and Dole to push for de facto congressional implementation of Proposition 187. This could be done, he says, by passing legislation eliminating the federal requirement that states educate and provide public services for illegal immigrants. The initiative's fate still would be decided by the courts. But Wilson thinks implementation could be expedited and California's case strengthened by congressional action.

He particularly has in mind schools. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled narrowly in 1982 that states must educate undocumented immigrants, but its decision was based, in part, on an absence of "identifiable congressional policy."

If Congress did free states from educating illegal immigrants and also eliminate mandates for other services, President Clinton could veto the legislation. But, Wilson notes, "the President would have to think very long and very hard" about angering California's electorate.

"Frankly, for him, the legislation would be a blessing in disguise," the governor says. "He has to relieve California of the costs of illegal immigration or he doesn't stand a prayer of carrying this state in '96. And if Congress makes it easy for him, that's a gift."

In a Republican Congress, relief from mandates--not an infusion of money--is likely to be the preferred mode of help for illegal immigration, along with a more secure border and swifter deportations.

Wilson also will lobby the GOP leaders for relaxation of welfare mandates, giving the states more flexibility to run their own programs. He strongly advocates a time limit on welfare for able-bodied adults.

And he says "part of the calculus of welfare reform" should be shifting recipients into jobs--such as dishwashing--now held by illegal immigrants.

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Wilson may be relaxed, but he's still easily riled at the mention of 187's opposition campaign. He spews words such as "scare tactics," "disgraceful" and "bogus." Claiming that teachers will have to turn in suspected illegal immigrants, the governor says, is "CTA bull----."

"A great many (Latinos) have been poisoned by the most remarkable hype I've ever seen," he says. "For a lot of people who feel this really was a racist thing, I guess they now believe that the people of California are racists by (a vote of) 3 to 2. And they're not."

In the end, he theorizes, many Latinos after being "browbeat and told that this was an evil, immoral thing" still voted for 187, but lied to the pollsters.

And as for school administrators or any other public officials who refuse to enforce 187 once it takes effect, he says, "they ought to have their butts fired."

The triumphant Marine is back. And he now has Republican friends in powerful places.

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