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Gov. Gray Davis Ends Mexico Trip

February 4, 1999

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) _ With efforts to limit bilingual education and ban benefits to illegal immigrants, former California Gov. Pete Wilson made himself infamous in Mexico.

His successor was paying attention.

In a three-day trip to Mexico that ended Wednesday, Gov. Gray Davis dismissed illegal immigration as a federal matter, promoted increased trade and captivated Hispanics here and _ more importantly _ back home.

``The days of shouting, finger-pointing and assessing blame are over,″ said the Democrat, whose talk with Ernesto Zedillo was the first meeting between a Mexican president and a California governor in more than six years.

The trip has been front page news in Mexico _ where Proposition 187, the anti-illegal immigration measure Republicans successfully promoted in 1994, is known as ``Wilson’s law″ _ and California, where Hispanics voted 4-1 in favor of Democrats in the last election.

``This trip marks a new beginning,″ said Zedillo after meeting with Davis at Los Pinos, the presidential estate in Mexico City. Davis ``has shown through all his political career a tremendous respect for Mexico.″

``California offers dignified treatment,″ agreed a headline in Reforma. ``Davis Offers Fair, Humane Treatment on Immigrants,″ reported Exelsior, another leading newspaper.

Crisa Sanchez Vargas, a 21-year-old international trade student who joined a satellite video conference Davis held with students in both countries, said the change was welcome.

``Mexicans felt they were thrown out, treated badly in California,″ she said. ``This improved relationship will have very good fruits, because it will mean more trade. We can make a good team.″

California shipped $12 billion worth of goods to Mexico in 1997, but Davis and other Wilson critics say Texas _ whose economy is much smaller than California’s _ nearly tripled that export total, with some $31 billion in sales.

``I think Gov. (George W.) Bush has done a very good job of developing a very strong relationship with President Zedillo,″ Davis said, noting that Bush flew to Mexico to meet with Zedillo the day after his 1994 election.

``We don’t begrudge any jobs Texas has won. They’ve won it fair and square.″

Republicans insist the premise that Wilson harmed trade is false.

In fact, California’s exports to Mexico soared 94 percent from 1993 to 1997 _ the heart of Wilson’s tenure _ compared to 47 percent growth for Texas, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

California Republicans attribute the trade boom to NAFTA, which Wilson supported but Davis, who has enjoyed considerable support from labor unions, didn’t.

``It’s good that Davis is there softening those bruised feelings, but if he really wanted to make this relationship even stronger, he’d stand up to the labor unions in this country and push much more aggressively for broader free trade agreements,″ said Dan Schnur, a spokesman for a committee supporting Wilson’s potential presidential campaign.

Also, Texas’ trade figures were inflated in part by California exports that had to flow east to reach Mexico’s major highways and rail systems, said former Wilson spokesman Sean Walsh.

``Factor that in, and California’s trade is just exploding,″ said Walsh, who blames both Davis and Mexican politicians for ``demonizing″ Republicans who dared confront the problem of illegal immigration.

``P.R. aside, that trip is not going to make a dent in the massive inflow of illegal narcotics and illegal aliens from Mexico,″ Walsh said. ``It’s not something a responsible governor can brush aside.″

But polls suggest Davis is in step with Californians, whose attitudes have changed dramatically since voters approved Proposition 187 by a 20 percent margin. A poll released last month by the Public Policy Institute of California showed most now believe Mexican immigration, legal or illegal, is more of a benefit than a burden.

``Politically this is a great time for Davis to be increasing trade and improving relations with Mexico, because many Californians view the relationship with Mexico as a benefit to the state,″ said PPIC director Mark Baldassare.

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