Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani accepted the endorsement Thursday of former California Gov. Pete Wilson, linking the Republican presidential contender with a strong supporter of Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot initiative that still echoes among California’s Latino voters.
The issue helped Democrats to victory in ensuing state elections. It was so volatile that then-candidate George W. Bush maintained distance from Wilson in the 2000 campaign as he tried to attract Latino voters to the Republican camp.
The concept behind Proposition 187, which would have barred illegal immigrants from receiving some basic government services -- including public education -- remains popular among conservatives, who carry extra weight in California Republican primaries.
The proposition was voted into law but was overturned in federal court, and in 1999, then-Gov. Gray Davis allowed the appeal to die.
The association with Wilson will help Giuliani in the Republican primary, said John J. Pitney, a political analyst at Claremont McKenna College. After that, he said, “it could be much more of a problem.”
“Primary voters tend to support measures such as Prop. 187, and . . . there are fewer Latinos in Republican primary elections than we have in general elections. But Giuliani doesn’t get to the general without winning the primaries,” Pitney said.
Giuliani, who was mayor of New York when Proposition 187 was working its way through the courts, derided it at the time as “inhumane.”
But in an appearance Thursday with Wilson at a Santa Monica hotel, Giuliani said that times and circumstances have changed, and that he and Wilson are in general agreement that illegal immigration needs to be stopped at the border by the federal government.
But Giuliani took a more conciliatory approach to dealing with those already here illegally and whether they should be barred from receiving government benefits. When he was mayor, he said, New York City was receiving illegal immigrants at an exponentially faster pace than the federal government could find and deport them.
“You have to come to some practical choices,” Giuliani said. “You better be smart enough to make a practical choice that reduces crime rather than increases it.”
Giuliani brushed aside a question about whether he and Wilson, an ally of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a principal with the Bingham McCutchen legal and consulting firm, were at odds over the issue.
“The governor and I agree on most things,” Giuliani said. “This is a good place to remind ourselves . . . that my 80% friend is not my 20% enemy.”