A few months after he had won the 2003 recall election, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was asked to give a speech at the Hoover Institution’s annual dinner on Stanford University’s old quad.
An aide assisting with the remarks me asked me for some background on my place of employment, plus any jokes for the occasion. My suggestion: Arnold should begin by thanking two Stanford alums – Eunice Shriver (Class of 1942), without whom there would be no Maria, and Gray Davis (Class of 1964), without whom there would be no “Governator.”
The aide rejected the joke. I’m glad he did. On reflection, it was a cheap shot at Davis’ expense.
I thought of that anecdote after seeing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent comment about my former boss, Gov. Pete Wilson, during a visit to the home offices of the New York Times.
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“In every way, we are America’s coming attraction,” Newsom said (as he has many times before). “And I say ‘every way’ because literally America in 2019 was California in the 1980s and 1990s. Everything we’re experiencing – the xenophobia, the nativism, the fear of the other, think back to Pete Wilson and Prop. 187 – that would make Donald Trump blush.”
Newsom has every right to criticize Wilson for supporting Proposition 187. He knows what it’s like to be second-guessed. Back in the 2004 election, when Newsom was mayor of San Francisco and handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples, he took flak from fellow Democrats who suggested that his virtue pay cost their party Ohio’s electoral votes and the White House.
But to suggest that Wilson was somehow more provocative than Trump, who kicked off his presidential run by claiming Mexico was “bringing their worst people” to the U.S. and “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crimes, they’re rapists”?
Cheap shot, governor.
You might ask: What about the now-infamous “they keep coming” ad that showed immigrants racing through traffic at a border check and into the U.S.? It’s provocative. But is Wilson calling for Washington to better control the border in the same ballpark as Trump directly linking illegal immigration to the murder of Californians?
I wrote speeches for Wilson for the better part of five years. Many dealt with illegal immigration. Time and again, my boss said he respected the drive and determination of those who came north in search of opportunity and a better life. Wilson always made it a point to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration (a nuance the media often fudge). That’s hardly the stuff of a xenophobe.
A second point: Only 39 men have served as California’s governor, making it a more exclusive fraternity than the presidency. To the extent that standards of suitably “gubernatorial” behavior exist, they would include abstaining from character attacks against fellow club members.
Newsom, by suggesting that Wilson was sub-Trumpian back in the day, failed that test.
Being a governor of California is a heady experience – perhaps more so for Newsom given the ease and breadth of his victory, his abundance of energy and ideas, and the perception of his state and his administration as the vanguard of the anti-Trump “resistance”.
To travel to New York and reinforce that perception is this governor’s choice, as his viewing of California politics through a post-modern “woke” lens. But slandering Gov. Wilson to score points with the East Coast cognoscenti?
You’re better than that, Gov. Newsom.