The Democratic Party attacked Gov. Pete Wilson’s immigration record Tuesday in the gubernatorial campaign’s first political ad, and pro-immigrant groups held news conferences across the state to denounce the governor’s proposals to discourage illegal immigration.
State Democratic political director Bob Mulholland showed reporters a 30-second television advertisement, saying he intended it to be a warning to Wilson that he should not make immigration a major issue in his 1994 reelection campaign.
“It is the first shot over the bow. This is a message to Pete Wilson: If he wants to make it an issue, we will respond,” said Mulholland, who has a reputation as an especially tough campaign operative.
Last week, Wilson called for a constitutional amendment to deny citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants. Wilson urged an end to the practice of offering illegal immigrants health care, public education and welfare benefits for their children.
The theme of the TV spot is that Wilson has done a flip-flop on immigration. It says that as a U.S. senator, Wilson sponsored legislation “opening our borders to cheap labor for his campaign contributors in agribusiness.” The commercial says that the governor now “wants Washington to solve immigration problems he created.”
The ad refers to language in the 1986 immigration act that allowed foreigners to come to the United States as “guest workers,” primarily in agriculture. Mulholland charged that the legislation “made it easier for criminal migrant networks to bring their foot soldiers into the country.”
So far, the Democrats’ budget for airing the advertisement is small, $25,000 to $50,000. Mulholland said he hopes to place it on CNN in Los Angeles and Sacramento, and perhaps on other stations.
Alan Ziegaus, senior counselor to Wilson’s campaign committee, said a description of the ad “sounds like another one of Mulholland’s dirty tricks.” He said the governor made his statements about immigration for policy reasons, not to get political mileage.
Meanwhile, in a coordinated attack across California, Democratic officials, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups held news conferences attacking Wilson’s plan.
In an open letter, the groups denounced the governor’s proposals, saying they “add to the misperception that immigrants are the sole cause of California’s economic troubles and that once the undocumented leave our state, our troubles will disappear.”
To illustrate their point that anti-immigrant sentiment traditionally coincides with economic hard times, they displayed enlarged copies of Los Angeles Times stories from the 1930s to the present reflecting that tendency.
“We know in our community that this is a historical cycle,” said Arturo Vargas, vice president of the MALDEF, who spoke at a news conference in Los Angeles. He called the stories and Wilson’s proposals “chilling evidence of anti-immigrant, anti-Latino sentiment.”
Freshman Assemblywoman Hilda L. Solis (D-El Monte) noted privately that some of her middle-class Latino constituents also have questioned her support for the rights of undocumented residents.
“They say, ‘Hey, why are you helping them? I got mine,’ ” she said. “That’s not the right mentality. It’s not humane.”
In an address to Town Hall of California in Los Angeles Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) also challenged Wilson’s record as a U.S. senator from 1982 to 1990.
“When Gov. Wilson was in the United States Senate, he was the strongest voice for bringing cheap labor into this country from Mexico,” Boxer said in response to a question. “And now I am afraid, you know, he is really riding the horse of hatred. And I resent that.”
Although a majority of the most vitriolic comments at the Los Angeles news conference were reserved for Wilson, there was also muted criticism of Boxer over her plan to send the National Guard to help police the border. One of the activists called the plan “ill thought-out.”
But in Sacramento, Mulholland said he embraced Boxer’s suggestion to deploy the National Guard to stop illegal immigration, as well as a controversial suggestion by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to impose a $1 toll at the border crossings to help offset the costs of immigration.
Morain reported from Sacramento and Klein from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Bill Stall contributed to this report.