Capitol Alert

Pete Wilson says Ted Cruz is ‘not anti-immigrant’

Former Gov. Pete Wilson addresses delegates at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame on April 30, 2016.
Former Gov. Pete Wilson addresses delegates at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame on April 30, 2016. The Sacramento Bee/Christopher Cadelago

Former Gov. Pete Wilson, endorsing Ted Cruz for president on Saturday, did not mention Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative Wilson championed to restrict state services to undocumented immigrants.

The measure – while overturned by the courts – did lasting damage to the Republican Party’s effort to recruit Latino voters in California.

But Wilson volunteered this about the Texas senator, whose position on illegal immigration, like Donald Trump’s, includes building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border: “He is not anti-immigrant. He, as am I, is for legal immigration of the kind that has made this country great.”

Wilson endured a strained relationship with party activists for years after he left office 1999, with many conservatives unwilling to forgive him for raising taxes and supporting abortion rights. But his relationship appeared to improve when, during the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis in 2008, he called President Barack Obama a socialist.

In 2012, Wilson was in Tampa to announce California Republicans’ support for Mitt Romney on the convention floor.

He received a standing ovation on Saturday.

Wilson, a former U.S. senator, assemblyman and San Diego mayor, cast Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, as an unpredictable executive who cannot be trusted to nominate conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices.

“Heaven knows what justices Donald Trump would pick,” he said. “We can’t afford a wild-card when it comes to a president who will be making critically important Supreme Court appointments.”

Wilson likened Cruz’s candidacy to that of former President Ronald Reagan.

“America today is in desperate need of a strong, winning Republican leader,” Wilson said. “And my friends, thankfully, that strong Republican leader has stepped forward in our moment of extreme need.”

John Burton, chairman of the state Democratic Party, was happy to weigh in with a mention of Proposition 187.

“Former California Governor Pete Wilson, who was the champion of the mean-spirited and unconstitutional Proposition 187, has endorsed Ted Cruz for president,” Burton said in a statement. “Gov. Wilson can explain to Sen. Cruz the benefits of having strong anti-immigration policies in California – they have worked so well for the Republican Party here.”

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders