The Right Coast

February 28, 2005
Don't Blame Pete Wilson for Making California a Blue State
By Gail Heriot

Brendan Miniter's comment in today's WSJ Political Diary (subscription required) seems quite unfair to me. He suggests that former California Governor Pete Wilson and Proposition 187 (which denied illegal immigrants certain state benefits, including welfare benefits) are responsible for making California a Democratic electoral stronghold. I'm starting to hear this everywhere I go and it's utter nonsense. And I'm saying that as someone who opposed 187 and who regards herself as moderately pro-immigration (though I would like to see some significant changes to our immigration policy).

Democrats increased in strength largely because more Hispanics and Asians moved to California (and more blue-collar whites left for Nevada, Arizona, etc.). Demographics matter. First generation immigrants tend to be Democrats in part because they will tend to come from the lowest socio-economic strata. That has nothing to do with their "reception." Had Pete Wilson greeted them at the border with a kiss and a bottle of champagne, they would still be Democrats. It wasn't Wilson's alleged anti-immigrationism that made California a Democratic stronghold, it was immigration itself. The best the GOP can do is try to pick up as many Hispanic and other votes as they can (and I strongly support those efforts).

Is it possible that there are a few Hispanic immigrants who will tell you that they would have been Republicans but for Proposition 187? Sure, but there may also be a few Mexicans living in Mexico who will tell you that they would have immigrated to the USA (and voted Democratic) but for Wilson and 187. I don’t know which way it nets out. The one thing I’m pretty sure of is that the effect is tiny relative to the overall effect of immigration. Blaming California's Democratization on Wilson is like blaming a flood on some guy for peeing in the river.