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Schwarzenegger's Prop. 187 Support Could Hinder Him

Actor voted for the divisive '94 initiative, a move that could alienate Latinos. But analysts say it might help him with hard-core conservatives.

August 12, 2003|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

Film star Arnold Schwarzenegger may have done nothing more for the passage of the anti-illegal immigration measure than vote for it, but Proposition 187 has nonetheless complicated his bid for governor in the Oct. 7 recall election.

Interviews with political consultants and civil rights activists show that Schwarzenegger did not actively campaign for passage of the 1994 initiative. But Democrats and civil rights organizations moved quickly Monday to capitalize on his support for the initiative and his close ties to one of its key backers, former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, and his campaign team.

The initiative, which barred public services to illegal immigrants, passed by a large margin and was thrown out by the courts. It remains one of the most divisive in recent state history in part because it reflected a tension between white voters, who have long dominated politics in California, and the growing number of Latino voters.

The Austrian-born Schwarzenegger has sought to reach out to Latinos in recent days with frequent reminders of his own arrival in California as a penniless immigrant.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 16, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 72 words Type of Material: Correction
Proposition 187 -- Two recent articles in Section A that discussed Proposition 187 contained errors. An article on Wednesday referred to the proposition as "anti-immigration." The proposition denied benefits to illegal immigrants, not immigrants generally. An article on Tuesday referred to some advertisements that supported the proposition as "incendiary," a word that implies motive. The advertisements generated controversy, but the article did not support a conclusion that they were intended to inflame.

But Democrats have prospered in elections since 1994 in large part because of strong support from Latinos, many of whom were politically mobilized by the Proposition 187 debate. And with the state's highest-ranking Latino politician, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, now the party's candidate on the ballot of potential successors to Gov. Gray Davis, Democrats were happy to keep Schwarzenegger's position on the issue in the public eye.

During a question-and-answer session with reporters Monday, Bustamante made it clear he will use the issue against Schwarzenegger.

"When we made the announcement [to run] last Thursday, we knew the same group of folks who were around Wilson were around Arnold as well," Bustamante said. "You have to be able to look past the blitz to be able to see where people are really at, who's providing them their inspiration."

"This is an extremely diversified state. Probably one of the most diversified places on the face of the planet. It's more than just a Latino community," Bustamante added. When voters "start looking at candidates, they're going to see the differences."

As Bustamante's remarks indicated, the high-profile role that Wilson has taken in the Schwarzenegger campaign provides another opening that Democrats hope to exploit.

The initiative and Wilson remain a unifying force for Latinos, here and nationally, said Cecilia Munoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Latino rights organization.

"Who knows what percentage will turn out for this election," Munoz said late Monday from Washington, D.C. "But what history does tell us is that Prop. 187 and Pete Wilson have galvanized Latino voters more than anything else in recent history. And for California to be right back in the thick of that debate suggests that [Republicans] ... have not learned that lesson."

A co-chairman of the Schwarzenegger campaign, Wilson has been popping up regularly on television touting the actor. That is in direct contrast to Wilson's virtual disappearance from public political events since he left office in 1999. Wilson was disliked by many of the conservative Republicans who have dominated the state party since his term ended.

Now, half a dozen of the former governor's political aides -- including the consultant who produced an incendiary 1994 television commercial showing illegal immigrants crossing the border -- are working for Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Sean Walsh, who worked for Wilson, dismissed the criticisms.

"No one understands the dreams and motivations of immigrants who come to this country more than Arnold Schwarzenegger," Walsh said. "He arrived in this country with just a few dollars in his pocket, and like millions of other immigrants, was unable to speak the language.

"He has great empathy for those who come here under similar circumstances. That said, he believes we are a nation governed by laws and that when our immigration laws are violated, too often undocumented immigrants are exploited."

A Los Angeles Times Poll in 1999 asked Californians their position on Proposition 187, and the results illustrate why political consultants believe there could be positive and negative repercussions from Schwarzenegger's position.

Non-Latino whites backed the measure, 65% to 28%. The split among Latinos was the opposite, with 26% backing it and 70% against it.

"I think it is a very mixed bag," said longtime Republican pollster Arnold Steinberg. "The people of the state supported 187, and I think they still believe illegal immigration is a serious problem."

So even if Schwarzenegger suffers politically with Latino voters, Steinberg said, his vote on Proposition 187 could bring him more credibility with conservative Republicans who eye him with suspicion because of his positions on some social issues, such as abortion.

Another veteran GOP consultant, Allan Hoffenblum, agreed.

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