The Sad Spectacle of Pete Wilson Taking a Dive


What a sorry disappointment, seeing Pete Wilson behaving like a low-rent political hack at an age when he ought to be a senior statesman.

The former governor, who turned 78 this week, has foolishly let himself be drawn into the desperate rear guard effort by state GOP apparatchiks to undo the state Senate districts drawn by the independent redistricting commission.

In doing so, this former advocate for a redistricting process free of partisan influence has become one of the Crybaby Republicans who don’t like the results and now demand a do-over for strictly partisan purposes.

Thanks to Patrick McGreevy’s scooplet of the week, the world now knows that Wilson signed a five-page fundraising pitch to “several thousand potential donors,” pleading for cash to help finance a dead-ender referendum aimed at repealing the commission’s new Senate plan and throwing it into the courts.

“The state Senate lines drawn by the California Redistricting Commission virtually guarantee a Democrat Super-majority in the California State Senate in 2012,” the mailer added. “A successful drive to put a referendum on the June 2012 ballot is the best way to prevent this from happening.”

Say it ain’t so, Pete.

The invention of indoor plumbing:  Wilson can be a prickly guy, but even if we didn’t get all warm and fuzzy when he walked into a room, we had respect for him when we covered him, back before electricity and indoor plumbing were invented.

With the very notable exception of his anything-to-win sponsorship of Prop. 187 (which, unfortunately for him, will be the main thing he’s remembered for), Wilson was an old-school governor who understood the importance of compromise. A classic California moderate Republican, he put ideas ahead of ideology, flipping off the right-wing witch burners with his support for abortion rights, cutting a ballsy deal with Willie Brown on cuts and taxes when he came into office and found state finances circling the drain, exercising leadership on environmental issues, well before it was fashionable.

So it wasn’t a big surprise when he stood next to then-Governor Schchwarzmuscle four years ago, cheek-by-jowl with Gray Davis, in a tableau of goo-goo bipartisanship, the three of them earnestly endorsing the need to “give an independent commission the authority to draw district boundaries,”  an event that turned out to be the first shot of the campaign for the redistricting reform measure that would become Proposition 11.

Now that Prop. 11 has become law, however, and that commission has drawn an electoral map without regard to partisan fear or favor, GOP extremists who’ve grown fat and happy perched in safe gerrymandered seats are suddenly in a panic, realizing that their just-say-no ideology is a non-starter in fresh  political terrain that accurately reflects the politics of California.

It’s telling that Charlie Cook, the Washington-based master of nuts and bolts politics, recently cited California’s new redistricting process as a reform that could offer some hope of breaking the nation’s ritual gerrymandering-polarization political cycle.

Most of us are also wondering: How do we get out of this mess?

Notoriously ungovernable California may be the last place that most people inside the Beltway would look for solutions – but, shockingly, it is worth watching this year. At first, many derided the state’s new Citizens Redistricting Commission, set up by ballot amendment in 2008, as an amateur-hour boondoggle. But after the panel of 14 average citizens, which was barred from factoring in political data and was completely unaccountable to politicians, did its work, California is on the verge of passing a map with much more politically heterogeneous districts.

Partisans who control most states have an incentive to make districts even more polarized, but California’s new districts and ‘top-two’ primary system could produce a few more incumbents with an incentive to compromise. So far, equal numbers of Democratic and Republican officeholders hate the way this experiment is going. Sounds promising.

Wilson’s shameful spectacle: Here’s what Wilson told a crowd in Santa Monica in 2009, in one of those public “conversation” things with Joe Mathews:

“There are Republicans who are forever happy to be in the minority. They don’t have to govern. They can be sort of bomb throwers.”

But today, we find Wilson throwing in with those very folks he criticized for not caring about governance.

Public interest aside, by supporting their foot-stomping little temper tantrum, Wilson is doing a disservice to his own party by enabling the extremists to cling to the delusion that they don’t have to change, that if they just keep on repeating the same outdated, discredited, bumper sticker cant, it will finally dawn on those dumb voters that they’ve been right – we’re right! –all along.

For shame, governor.

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There are 2 comments for this post

  1. avatar tonyseton says:

    A fool and his reputation are soon parted. Or maybe it is that he has had the wrong reputation as a smart guy for too long. He had a chance to send Tom Campbell to the Senate and didn’t. More recently, instead of guiding the GOP to a moderate, intelligent future ihe slid into the wallow with the likes of Whitman and Fiorina. And now he jumps aboard this Titanic. Soon the Reps will drop the G and just be the Old Party.

  2. avatar tegrat says:

    Perhaps poor old Pete just longs to be liked – by somebody, anybody for God’s sake!- before his time is fully over. Sad…

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