Elected Governor of California in 1990, Pete Wilson faced an uphill battle in his re-election four years later. His approval ratings were down and he was a 20-point underdog as his campaign began. A wildly divisive ballot proposition was placed before voters in 1994, months before election day. I’ll let Charles Fraser tell it:
Proposition 187 would bar publicly funded health care, public education, and social services to illegal immigrants, and would require public servants to report people they suspected might be illegal immigrants. Prop 187 was immediately popular, and Governor Wilson ran hard on it, promising vigorous enforcement.
Prop 187 passed with an 18 percent margin, and Wilson won re-election by 15 percent. But the campaign prompted two very important and closely related long-term changes in California politics. First, Prop 187 impelled legal Hispanic residents of California to become citizens and register to vote in unprecedented numbers. Second, Prop 187 all but eliminated political diversity among California’s Latinos. After Prop 187, Hispanic Californians largely abandoned any interest in the Republican Party, committing themselves to the Democrats.
In other words, the shrinking non-Hispanic white population chose to alienate and unify the fastest-growing demographic in the state.
Wilson’s support among Hispanic voters was at a respectable 47% in 1990; while they were a rapidly growing part of the electorate in 1994, Hispanic voters were just 26% of the electorate. White folks were still the majority (57%) of voters. Fraser goes on to describe the lasting repercussions of Wilson’s campaign on Prop 187 for Californian politics, and how profoundly a single campaign can poison the future of the state Republican party. Sad!
Fraser’s a recent addition to my RSS feeds, and his political commentary is sober, insightful, and always interesting. Strongly recommended reading for the interesting political times we live in.