(b. Lake Forest, Illinois, 23 Aug. 1933)
US; US Senator 1983–91, Governor of California 1991–99 A lawyer educated at Yale and Berkeley, Wilson was elected to the California legislature in 1966 and served there until becoming mayor of San Diego in 1970, a post he occupied until 1983 and one which earned him a reputation as an able administrator. In 1982 Wilson was elected to the Senate, where he adopted a moderate approach to issues, but strongly supported the defence spending so crucial to the California economy. In 1988 he was re-elected to the Senate but chose to run for governor in a race against former San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein in 1990. After a narrow victory in 1990, he was re-elected to a second gubernatorial term in 1994, gaining 55 per cent of the vote in a race against Kathleen Brown.
As governor Wilson had to deal with major budgetary problems, largely the effect of a recession which was especially marked in California because of cuts to the defence industry in the new environment created by the end of the Cold War. To solve revenue problems, Wilson supported tax rises and spending cuts which alienated both his Republican backers and the legislature. Wilson also had to cope with the effects of a series of natural disasters in California and with mounting concern about crime. Strong backing for law enforcement (including capital punishment) and for a tougher line on illegal immigrants helped Wilson to win re-election in 1994. On some of the most highly salient social issues in California (abortion and gay rights) he is a liberal.
As one of the Republican Party's most able and experienced politicians, Wilson has had presidential ambitions. In 1995 he announced he would seek the Republican nomination but he withdrew as Bob Dole's campaign gathered momentum. During the presidency of George W Bush, Wilson served on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and on the Secretary's Defense Policy Board (appointed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld).