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COLUMN RIGHT / JOSEPH FARAH

Will the Real Pete Wilson Stand Up : At best, he is a skillful political chameleon with a well-moistened finger in the air.

March 26, 1995|JOSEPH FARAH | Joseph Farah is editor and publisher of Inside California, a state political newsletter, and Dispatches, a national biweekly cultural watchdog newsletter

Pete Wilson will soon be campaigning for President in New Hampshire. When he arrives, the national press corps ought to ask him this question: Who is the worst governor in the history of California?

Does he still believe, as he did in 1976 when he campaigned in New Hampshire for President Ford, that it was Ronald Reagan?

If so, perhaps he could explain why he now characterizes himself as a "Reagan conservative." If not, perhaps he can explain why character assassination of real conservatives has been such an integral part of his lifelong political repertoire.

Let me blunt: Pete Wilson is a phony. Once again, he's trying to reinvent himself, something he does as frequently as the current occupant of the White House.

If you believe Wilson's spinmeisters, he's a dedicated crime-fighter who's tough on illegal immigration, a fierce proponent of property rights and the sovereignty of the states. Most of all, he's a strong fiscal conservative--compassionate, but resolute.

The truth is, there is nothing compassionate or conservative about Wilson. At best he is a skillful political chameleon with a well-moistened finger in the air.

With the national media taking their first serious look at Wilson, there are all kinds of new fables being created and some old ones being recycled. Let's shatter a few of these myths:

* He touts himself as a tough law-and-order man and cites two main achievements: his support for the "three-strikes" initiative that called for much tougher sentencing of repeat felons and a tough 12-bill anti-crime package he signed last year that included legislation making public the names of convicted pedophiles. The truth? When victims-rights activist Mike Reynolds, the creator of "three strikes," first asked Wilson for support, the governor said there was nothing he could do. He even discouraged Reynolds from pursuing the matter. Only later did he jump on the bandwagon as it was zooming by at 90 m.p.h. And that sweeping anti-crime package? It was developed by Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren's office. Just weeks before final passage of the pedophile bill, Wilson's own Finance Department was still expressing grave concerns about it.

* Wilson portrays himself as courageously championing Proposition 187, the initiative to ban welfare and other tax-payer-supported benefits to illegal immigrants. Once again, if truth be known, Wilson was late getting to the party on 187. And, in all his years in the U.S. Senate, Wilson had an undistinguished record on immigration issues. Only when he began to see it as a hugely popular and winning political issue did Wilson get behind 187.

* And how about that image as a "fiscal conservative?" The reality is that in 1991 Wilson ramrodded through the Legislature--against Republican opposition--the largest tax increase in the history of the state. This proponent of local control engineered the shifting of $2.3 billion in local property-tax revenue to the state in 1993. He increased the sales tax and estate taxes, gasoline taxes, instituted new taxes on newspapers and snacks and hiked motor vehicle fees. He supported massive new bond measures that have helped wreck the state's credit rating. He borrowed $4 billion to balance his budget.

Have Wilson's principles changed? Impossible. He has no principles. He is guided only by his own ego and his lofty political ambitions. It was that unbridled ambition that allowed him, apparently in good conscience, to assure California voters repeatedly that he would not seek the presidency in 1996. Like the former governor of Arkansas, he makes promises easily.

About the only new promise Wilson is making now is to deliver California's electoral votes come November, 1996. But even that promise has little foundation in reality. The latest polls show President Clinton beating Pete Wilson in his own state. This, just four months after a successful gubernatorial campaign in which Wilson spent $28 million.

Not surprising. In California, among those who know Wilson best, his support may be a mile wide, but it's certainly no more than an inch deep.

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