Former California governor takes side in GOP primary |

Former California governor takes side in GOP primary

Erica Werner / The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO – Former California Gov. Pete Wilson lashed out at fellow Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock on Tuesday, saying McClintock couldn’t be counted on in the Legislature and should not go to Congress.

McClintock said he welcomed the criticism from the former governor and countered the jab by accusing Wilson of raising taxes while in office.

McClintock said Wilson’s comments underscored that his GOP primary campaign against former Rep. Doug Ose, who has Wilson’s support, is “a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.”

McClintock is an unyielding conservative who has voted against most state budgets, including one Wilson signed in 1998 that cut the state’s car tax 25 percent. McClintock said he supported cutting the car tax but the final package that year also included other fee increases.

Wilson, like Ose, is considered a pragmatic centrist. Wilson cited that vote among others in his criticism of McClintock. McClintock was in the state Assembly from 1982-92 and 1996-2000, overlapping with portions of Wilson’s first and second terms as governor.

“As governor, frankly I could never count on Tom McClintock,” Wilson said during a news conference by a veteran’s memorial near the state Capitol. “He was always the first to criticize, but the last to help his own team. His record frankly doesn’t match his rhetoric.”

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Wilson cited other examples of his differences with McClintock, including McClintock’s support of lowering the current two-thirds majority required in the Legislature to pass a state budget.

McClintock made no apologies.

“If you remember, Pete Wilson proposed the biggest tax increase in the history of this state and I fought him every step of the way,” McClintock said in a telephone interview.

He was referring to a $6 billion tax increase the then-governor sponsored in 1991 to help cover an inherited budget deficit.

McClintock has said previously that he could support lowering the two-thirds threshold to pass the state budget as a way to make the majority party more accountable for the state’s spending plan.

Ose, 52, and McClintock, 51, are battling in the upcoming June 3 primary for the GOP nomination to replace incumbent Rep. John Doolittle, who is retiring this year. Republicans feared Doolittle’s ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff made him susceptible to an upset this fall if he ran for re-election.

Doolittle barely survived a challenge in 2006 from Democrat Charlie Brown, even though Republicans hold a 47 percent to 31 percent registration edge over Democrats in the 4th Congressional District.

The winner of next week’s Republican primary is expected to face Brown in November. The district stretches from Sacramento’s suburbs north to Oregon and east to Nevada.

Wilson’s endorsement and harsh words for McClintock could be a boost for Ose, just a week away from the election.

The former governor amplified criticism of McClintock that Ose has pushed throughout the campaign, centering on McClintock’s career as a politician making his living off the taxpayers.

“He complains about government spending but has voted to increase his own salary, benefits and tax-free living expenses,” Wilson said.

McClintock has said he is proud of his lifelong political career and has defended his acceptance of $36,319 in per diem payments in 2007 – on top of his state lawmaker’s salary of $116,000 – as perfectly legal and no different from what other lawmakers do.

The per diem is meant for state legislators who live far from Sacramento. McClintock lives year-round within a quick commute of the capital, although his state Senate district is in Southern California.

Ose also has been endorsed by former GOP Gov. George Deukmejian, who preceded Wilson in office, and a number of other elected officials. McClintock boasts more endorsements from local party officials and activist groups, including the National Rifle Association and the anti-tax Club for Growth.

McClintock and Wilson also were on opposite sides in 2003 when Wilson co-chaired Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign for governor in the election to recall former Gov. Gray Davis.

McClintock stayed in the race despite pressure from other Republicans, who feared he would split the conservative vote with Schwarzenegger and thus benefit the top Democrat in the race. Schwarzenegger won, and McClintock finished third.