San Francisco, Aug. 13: Former California governor Pete Wilson is quickly becoming the political face for Arnold Schwarzenegger, moving everything from his political team to his policy positions into the actor’s camp.
In the week since Schwarzenegger jumped into the recall campaign to replace Democratic governor Gray Davis, Wilson has been the actor’s surrogate, showing up across the television dial to give his blessing to the rookie politician’s campaign.
The actor added three more of Wilson’s top political operatives to the campaign yesterday, hiring Bob White, Wilson’s former chief of staff, and Marty Wilson and Pat Clary, who both worked closely with the former governor. White worked with Schwarzenegger last year on Proposition 49, a successful measure to provide more after-school programmes for California’s young people.
After five years of listening to Davis and other Democrats disparage Wilson’s two terms as governor, payback is one reason for his involvement. “There is a personal element,” Wilson said in an interview yesterday. “I’m outraged by (Davis’) deficit in vision and leadership.”
California was a different and much better state when he left as governor, Wilson said.
“I wanted the job (as governor) in order to make changes, and we did,” he said. “We left (Davis) in great shape, with a multibillion-dollar surplus. In four years’ time, he’s managed to create the worst business climate in the nation. He’s spent us into an unbelievable hole.”
That’s red meat rhetoric for the millions of California residents unhappy with the direction the state has taken under Davis. And Schwarzenegger’s political team, many of them Wilson alumni, see the ex-governor as the perfect person to paint the actor as a serious candidate.
“Who better to state that Schwarzenegger is qualified and the tonic for what ails California than the state’s last successful governor'” said Sean Walsh, a former Wilson spokesperson now working for Schwarzenegger’s campaign. “We’re very, very pleased that Pete Wilson is out there supporting Arnold.”
But while Wilson’s enthusiastic endorsement can bring his friends to Schwarzenegger’s side, it has also brought his enemies around, too.
And Wilson’s decades in California’s political life, capped by a bitter fight over Proposition 187, an immigration measure opposed by the state’s Latino voters, has left him with plenty of baggage.
“Even George Bush wouldn’t campaign with Wilson in 2000,” said Art Torres, head, state Democratic Party.