CALIFORNIA GOP CONVENTION : Unity Is Key to '92 Victory, Wilson Says

TIMES POLITICAL WRITERS

Opening a Republican convention clouded by ideological discontent, Gov. Pete Wilson issued a stern call for tolerance and unity Friday night, holding out the promise of a broad victory in 1992 as the reward.

"There is simply too much at stake for us not to become the big tent that includes more and more Republicans," he told hundreds of GOP members gathered at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.

"We can have individual differences, but what we have got to do is make the basic changes that we insist upon for our children."

As a smattering of protesters outside derided Wilson for raising taxes and favoring abortion rights--anathema to the Republican right--the governor invoked familiar themes on which he rode to victory less than a year ago.

He castigated Democrats for failing to pass his anti-crime legislation, and vowed to reform education and the budgeting process.

But central to that, as Wilson reminded the crowd, is a working majority--or close to it--in the Legislature--a political necessity that can only be accomplished through a Republican-leaning reapportionment.

Repeatedly, Wilson pledged to veto any reapportionment plan that fails to meet his standards of fairness.

He also stressed the high stakes of the 1992 election year, when a presidential ticket, two senate seats and congressional and legislative delegations will be on the line.

Wilson's comments came at the start of a three-day party convention that is expected to be dominated by GOP members more conservative than Wilson, whose increasing national reputation as a moderate irks many party loyalists.

Republican officials in both the governor's office and in Washington were concerned about the message that could come from a convention marked by factionalism.

State GOP Chairman Jim Dignan said the White House had called him to discuss some resolutions and by-law changes that were clearly meant to embarrass Wilson.

Rep. Robert K. Dornan of Orange County, arriving at the Nixon Library for Wilson's speech Friday night, said he had just been called by White House Chief of Staff John Sununu. Asked whether the White House was concerned about the mood of California Republicans, Dornan nodded.

"How would you like to be a President and have the Republican governor of your largest state face this with Republicans demonstrating against him?" Dornan asked, as protesters bellowed behind him.

As the governor arrived at the convention hotel in Anaheim before the speech, hundreds of delegates and supporters filled the hallways and cheered him. After television cameras recorded his raucous welcome, Wilson issued a few remarks and tendered an obligatory gibe at a favorite target, former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.

Later, as Wilson made his way to the Nixon Library, protesters mounted a less successful--but perhaps more colorful--effort.

About four dozen anti-Wilson activists with home-made signs covered an effigy of the governor in molasses--the closest they could get to tar--and then feathered it, mimicking Colonial protests against tax collectors. One carried a sign bearing the ultimate in insults: "Wilson is a Democrat."

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