Few topics have been as incendiary in California as illegal immigration, with intense arguments about whether those who cross borders are a reminder of the American dream or a sign of its demise.
Those past debates — most visible during elections in 1994 and 2010 — may offer some insight into the issue’s political rewards and risks.
For starters, neither effort sprang from measurable public anger. In 1993, a Los Angeles Times poll found only 2% of voters surveyed cited immigration as the state’s top problem. Jobs and the economy were more pressing, they said.
In late 1993, then-Gov. Pete Wilson said that “our state is facing a crisis in illegal immigration.” In the spring of 2010, GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner warned of “the strain” the issue was causing. Both men ultimately built campaigns around an effort to deny government services based on citizenship.