Yesterday, Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney announced the endorsement of former California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) and named Wilson honorary California chair of his campaign. In a statement touting the endorsement, Romney said “I’m honored to have Governor Pete Wilson’s support, because he’s one of California’s most accomplished leaders.”
Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, called the announcement “baffling,” citing the widespread perception that Wilson’s involvement in Meg Whitman’s 2010 California gubernatorial campaign contributed to her loss — including a stunning 86 percent to 13 percent landslide in favor of Gov. Jerry Brown among Latinos.
Others had sharper words, citing the long list of anti-immigrant politicians already signed up for Romney’s campaign, including Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the author of the Arizona and Alabama anti-immigrant laws. “Romney can’t seem to stop himself from digging deeper and deeper into his hole with Latino voters,” said Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union in a statement reported by the Los Angeles Times. “Here is what Pete Wilson accomplished: He turned Latino voters against the GOP brand.”
It turns out that Romney’s history with Pete Wilson is longer than some likely realize. Archival news reports accessed on Lexis-Nexis indicate that Mitt Romney attended at least one high-dollar fundraiser to help retire debt from Wilson’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign, one of the most bitterly anti-immigrant campaigns in recent memory. From a March 29, 1995 article in the Boston Herald:
Wilson later arrived in Boston, where an early evening fund-raiser sponsored by Gov. William F. Weld netted about $110,000 to help pay off the California governor’s 1994 re-election debt.[…]
About a dozen big-dollar contributors, including 1994 GOP Senate nominee Mitt Romney, gathered in the Four Seasons apartment of Weld supporter Thomas Shields to dine on a buffet supper and meet the man Weld said “may very well be” the next president.
While Wilson was at the time preparing for what would be an abortive 1996 presidential run, the fundraiser Romney attended was to retire debt from Wilson’s 1994 campaign, one which Wilson waged based on an outright demonization of illegal immigrants in an effort to boost his previously floundering re-election bid and ensure the passage of Proposition 187, an extreme anti-immigrant ballot measure.
Watch a collection of anti-immigrant/pro-Proposition 187 ads, including the infamous “They Keep Coming” ad, from Wilson’s 1994 campaign:
Proposition 187, which ultimately passed by an overwhelming 59 percent to 41 percent margin, was in many ways a precursor to today’s extreme anti-immigrant laws, including those in Alabama and Arizona authored by Romney adviser Kris Kobach. Its major provisions are very similar to or even more extreme than those Republicans have passed in recent years:
- Barred undocumented immigrants from the state’s education system: K-12 through higher education. Schools would also be forced to verify the legal status of not only students, but also their parents.
- Barred undocumented immigrants from receiving care at any publicly-funded health care facility.
- Barred undocumented immigrants from receiving cash assistance and other public social services in the state.
- Required all service providers to report suspected undocumented immigrants to the California Attorney General’s office and Immigration and Naturalization Service (now called Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
- Required police officers to determine the legal status of all persons who were arrested and report those suspected of being undocumented to federal authorities.
- Made the production, distribution and use of false documents felony offenses.
- Made reports on an individual’s status to the attorney general available to any other government entity.
- Prohibited local governments from limiting or failing to implement its provisions in any way.
After a lengthy court battle, Proposition 187 was ultimately declared unconstitutional in 1997 and finally killed by the administration of Governor Gray Davis (D) in 1999.
It’s unclear if Romney ever took a public position on Proposition 187 in 1994; however, any objections he may have had to the virulently anti-immigrant campaign run by Wilson did not stop him from helping to retire the campaign’s debt in early 1995 or from appointing Wilson to a prominent position in his 2012 campaign.