Pete Wilson was sworn into office for his second term as California’s 36th governor Saturday morning and was quickly dubbed “the tough-love governor” for a speech that warned of a harsh reality for the state’s indigent and those who break its rules.
The Republican chief said it is unfair to law-abiding taxpayers that criminals, welfare dependents, illegal immigrants and uneducated youths are draining resources from the government and jeopardizing the state’s viability.
“Is it fair that the welfare system taxes working people who can’t afford children and pays people who don’t work for having more children?” Wilson said to the 2,500 invited guests who filled the Sacramento Community Center.
“Why should federal law reward illegal immigrants for violating the law and punish California taxpayers and needy legal residents? Why do our laws put dangerous criminals back on our street and put us behind barred windows and locked doors?
“We will demand that all citizens meet the common decency, respecting the rights of others and we will demand that those who can, pull their own weight and meet the test of personal responsibility.”
In a speech so blunt that it surprised even Wilson’s supporters, the governor warned that the state is at a crossroads and quick action is required to avoid even more serious problems. In response, he is expected to propose another rollback of the state’s welfare program and a sweeping income tax cut during his annual State of the State speech Monday.
“Ours is a generation that cannot take for granted the good life, the historically generous bounty of California, unless we are prepared to make dramatic change,” he said. “We must choose whether California will be the Golden State or a welfare state. It can’t be both.”
Because he focused on many of the same issues that are at the top of the rejuvenated GOP agenda in Washington--a tax cut, less welfare and smaller government--several people who heard Wilson’s speech said it was likely to fuel speculation that he may be a candidate for the White House in 1996.
“This speech is going to spread like wildfire across the country,” said one longtime Wilson observer.
Welfare and taxes are not new issues for Wilson, but observers said the speech was one of his best because it eloquently combined the concepts of social rewards and penalties under the theme of creating an economically competitive state.
“We will break the bonds of restraint which government has placed on those strong enough to create opportunity and break the chains of dependency on those addicted to government’s largess. . . . We will make clear that welfare is to be a safety net, not a hammock--and absolutely not a permanent way of life,” the governor said.
Wilson chastised critics who say he is insensitive to the needs of the poor.
“The last refuge of those who call these questions unfair is to assert their compassion and to deny ours,” he said. “But the ultimate compassion is to build an economy that works, one that grows and provides the jobs working Californians need to feed their families, build their homes and pay their taxes.”
Although the governor avoided details of how he plans to solve the problems he outlined, he is expected to be more specific Monday when he addresses the Legislature in the State of the State speech.
The inaugural address reflected a sharply different politician than the Republican who was first sworn into the job four years ago. Then, Wilson’s inaugural was dogged by conservative protesters who were upset about his support for abortion rights and, in his speech, he highlighted plans for a new environmental protection agency and substantially more money to prevent social ailments.
This time, Wilson was greeted by dozens of protesters who were unhappy with his support last year for Proposition 187, the successful ballot measure now before the courts to cut off most state assistance to illegal immigrants. But the most enthusiastic faces emerging from the convention hall belonged to GOP conservatives.
“You can’t call him the moderate governor any more,” one Wilson associate said.
After the governor’s speech, San Diego Mayor Susan Golding, who hosted the ceremonies for the hourlong program, told the audience that California will have a “tough-love governor for the next four years. We also have a governor who has just eloquently redefined being politically correct.”
Wilson’s 26-minute speech was interrupted 45 times by applause, the biggest ovation coming when the governor took a shot at Washington and the federal mandates he has frequently criticized.
“California will not submit its destiny to faceless federal bureaucrats or even congressional barons,” he said. “We declare to Washington that California is a proud and sovereign state, not a colony of the federal government.”
Wilson’s speech earned high marks from many corners of Sacramento, including some flattery from Democrats. Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, who was also sworn into his new office this week, said he agreed in concept with Wilson’s dual approach to reduce welfare supports and cut taxes.
“I thought it was the best speech I’ve heard the governor give,” Davis said. “I concurred with most of the sentiments he expressed. . . . I liked his whole tough-love approach. I found myself nodding to many of the things he said.”
The inaugural ceremony was originally scheduled for the west steps of the Capitol where it could be witnessed by the public. By Thursday, however, organizers decided to move the event indoors because of an approaching storm. About 300 people who could not get into the community center watched from a big-screen television at the nearby Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Wilson took precisely 60 seconds to repeat California’s oath of office, echoing the words said by California Chief Justice Malcolm L. Lucas. Wilson finished with “So help me, God,” at 11:19 a.m. and began his address.
The 2,500-seat auditorium was jammed with mostly white and mostly affluent Republicans. Of the nearly 50 officials, Wilson Cabinet members and guests on the stage, three were black: a minister, a singer and former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).
Although this was a Republican celebration, custom was followed in having Democratic state officeholders and legislative leaders among the guests. Along with Brown and Davis, they included state Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer of Hayward, state Controller Kathleen Connell and Delaine Eastin, the state superintendent of public instruction.
The other Republican state officials--Treasurer Matt Fong, Secretary of State Bill Jones and Insurance Commissioner Charles Quackenbush--were present after holding their own swearing-in celebrations earlier in the week.
The sun shone throughout the event, but rain began to fall two hours later as Wilson was attending a separate ceremony launching Dan Lungren’s second term as state attorney general.
Joining Wilson and Lungren was former Gov. George Deukmejian, Wilson’s predecessor, one of Lungren’s predecessors as attorney general and something of a mentor to Lungren. Deukmejian concluded his talk by noting that, like Wilson, Lungren is ineligible to succeed himself because of term limits.
“But perhaps you might follow the lead of three former attorneys general and go on to become governor,” Deukmejian said. The inaugural drew as many as 5,000 people to Sacramento for three days of events that began Friday. Saturday night, black-tie guests paid at least $125 to attend the traditional inaugural ball at the Cal Expo fairgrounds. And this morning, about 800 people were expected to join the governor at a prayer breakfast.
As Wilson resumes his job at the Capitol, he faces a major diplomatic challenge with Latino leaders who are unhappy about his support for Proposition 187 and Democrats locked in a battle with Republicans for control of the state Assembly. Wilson’s speech did not offer either group much to smile about, however.
On policy, the governor’s tone was more take it or leave it than conciliatory. And Wilson made only a brief reference to the need to embrace diversity. He gave little attention to the illegal immigration problem that was a cornerstone of his reelection campaign.
Wilson is likely to call for major revisions in the state’s welfare program, probably including another reduction in cash grants and more restrictions on eligibility designed to discourage dependency and teen-age pregnancy.
At the same time, the governor has said he will propose an income tax cut. Legislators are expecting Wilson to recommend a plan offered by his economic advisers last month that calls for an across-the-board cut in corporate and personal income taxes of about 15% phased in over three years.
Wilson also recommended a merit system to reward good teachers and remove poor ones. But he focused mainly on students who are promoted without meeting minimum standards that would allow them to perform in the workplace.
“Self-esteem is important, but it cannot be conferred,” Wilson said. “It must be earned by performance, by meeting standards and by having been honestly tested and honestly judged to have met or exceeded clear, high standards. Anything less is not honest and not fair.”