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36th Governor of
California, January 7, 1991 - January 4, 1999

Born:  August 23, 1933, in Lake Forest, Illinois

Marriage:  Gayle Edlund Graham (1983)


Peter Barton Wilson, California’s 36th governor, has been known throughout his political career as “Pete” Wilson.


Early Life

Pete Wilson was born in a suburb of Chicago but grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, where he went to a private school. He attended Yale University on a ROTC scholarship, and graduated in 1955. From 1955-58 he was an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He then enrolled at Boalt Hall of Law (University of California, Berkeley) where he earned a law degree in 1962. He settled in San Diego to practice law.



Wilson’s political career began with his 1966 election to the California Assembly, where he served from 1967-71. He then began an eleven-year period as mayor of San Diego where he promoted controlled urban growth. He left that post in 1983 for a seat in the U.S. Senate. He was serving a second term in the senate when he decided to run for governor in 1990 against Democrat Dianne Feinstein. His campaign for governor stressed “law and order” issues, as well as decreased government spending and protection of the environment.



Wilson came to the governor’s position with the California economy faltering and a large budget deficit. He convinced the legislature to approve increased taxes as he cut the budget in education and welfare. This attempt to balance the state budget met with some approval and some opposition from the people.

In 1994 Wilson won election to a second term. By this time the California economy had improved. In August 1998 Wilson approved a large tax cut, countering the tax increases imposed earlier. The education budget was boosted to allow cuts in class sizes in elementary schools.


Later Years

While governor, Wilson showed interest in being president of the U.S. He was unsuccessful in his bid for the Republican nomination in 1996. Early in 1999 he announced that he would not be a candidate in 2000, but he left open the possibility of a future in national politics. Wilson continues to support Republican causes while being a “distinguished visiting fellow” at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.


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