So said Pete Wilson this summer as he announced his presidential candidacy in front of the Statue of Liberty. But an examination of the accomplishments trumpeted in his campaign literature shows Wilson’s policies have been inconsistent, self-serving, and in some cases, downright illegal:

Pete Wilson was the first governor in the nation to start dismantling affirmative action programs.

Tough words from a longtime architect of civic and statewide affirmative action programs. As mayor of San Diego in 1972, Wilson helped pass an initiative aimed at increasing the number of minorities employed by the city. “We are interested in employing black and brown talent,” he told the San Diego Union.

Since 1991, Gov. Wilson has signed at least 24 bills containing affirmative action provisions. And as recently as October 1994, Wilson stated he has “long supported [minority] set-asides.”

Pete Wilson was also the first governor to sign into law a “Three Strikes, You’re Out” bill to lock up career criminals.

This ostensibly tough anti-crime measure has clogged the courts and saddled California with an extraordinary financial burden. Since Wilson took office, state-prison spending has increased by 48 percent, including a 9 percent increase for fiscal 1995-96. The RAND corporation estimates the law’s price tag for California taxpayers will eventually reach $5.5 billion per year. Meanwhile, overflowing prisons have forced the premature release of countless inmates: In Los Angeles, the county jail lets 4,200 inmates out early each month, partly to accommodate petty thieves, facing life in prison, who now demand jury trials.

Pete Wilson…has also held the line on out-of-control state spending, reducing the state’s general fund budget by $1.6 billion from his first year in office.

Wilson’s opponents love to remind him that in 1991 he authorized a $7.5 billion tax hike, the biggest state tax increase in U.S. history. His attempts to deflate the ballooning budget deficit since then may end up costing the state even more. Wilson and the state legislature “closed” the state’s budget gap through a series of disingenuous deals, such as raiding property taxes from local governments, deferring government employee benefits, classifying education spending as a “loan” to public schools, and dipping into cigarette tax revenue earmarked for anti-smoking education. Five such devices have been declared illegal, which could force the state to repay as much as $3 billion, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

A national leader for immigration reform, Gov. Wilson led the charge to enact Proposition 187, an initiative to end taxpayer-supported services for those who enter the country illegally.

Wilson has a habit of luring immigrants to California, then turning his back on them once they arrive. In the mid-’80s, Wilson supported a supplement to the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act that offered legal residency to immigrants who could prove, after arriving in the country, that they were agricultural workers. As recently as 1993, Wilson rejected a series of reforms, including a Proposition 187-like proposal to deny taxpayer funds to illegal immigrants.

Last year, he jumped on the anti-immigrant band-wagon with Proposition 187. Yet the proposition does nothing to prevent workers from entering the country illegally (Pete’s agribusiness backers are dependent on the labor of illegals), it just punishes them once they’re here. In late July, a federal judge strongly hinted she may soon summarily declare the law uncostitutional.

Pete Wilson hasn’t just talked about ending welfare as we know it. In California, he has dramatically reduced welfare grants by putting people back on the road to self-reliance.

Wilson has slashed Aid to Families with Dependent Children by 25 percent over the last four years. As a result, the number of California children living in poverty has grown by 400,000 since 1991.

In this year’s budget, he cut funds for the poor, elederly, blind, and disabled in the state’s 41 poorest counties by 10 percent. Even his much-advertised workfare program, GAIN, lost $40 million of its original designated funding. Meanwhile, Wilson pushed an across-the-board 15 percent corporate and income tax cut, only to have it killed by the state Senate.

One More Thing

And it's a big one. Mother Jones is launching a new Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on the corruption that is both the cause and result of the crisis in our democracy.

The more we thought about how Mother Jones can have the most impact right now, the more we realized that so many stories come down to corruption: People with wealth and power putting their interests first—and often getting away with it.

Our goal is to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We're aiming to create a reporting position dedicated to uncovering corruption, build a team, and let them investigate for a year—publishing our stories in a concerted window: a special issue of our magazine, video and podcast series, and a dedicated online portal so they don't get lost in the daily deluge of headlines and breaking news.

We want to go all in, and we've got seed funding to get started—but we're looking to raise $500,000 in donations this spring so we can go even bigger. You can read about why we think this project is what the moment demands and what we hope to accomplish—and if you like how it sounds, please help us go big with a tax-deductible donation today.

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