Upon graduation from Yale University, Pete Wilson served three years active duty as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
In 1962 he served as an advance aide on the Nixon for Governor campaign. With a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley, he began his practice with Davies & Burch in San Diego. Elected to the State Assembly in 1966, he served as Republican Whip and Chairman of the Committee on Urban Affairs and Housing. But it was his three terms as Mayor of California's second-largest city that made San Diego a municipal model - and made Pete Wilson a respected leader in California.
In 1982 he defeated then two-term Governor Jerry Brown in a contest to represent California in the United States Senate. Dubbed a “'Watchdog of the Treasury," Senator Wilson was an outspoken champion of Israel abroad and Japanese-American citizens at home as the lead Republican co-sponsor of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. And as a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, no one was a stronger advocate for President Reagan’s “Peace Through Strength” national security policies, especially the Strategic Defense Initiative that convinced the Soviets they could not win the Cold War.
Inaugurated the 36th Governor in 1991, Wilson demanded fiscal discipline from the Democratic majority legislature. Inheriting recession, military base closures, deep defense contract cuts, and other heavy Congressional reductions in national security spending, he insisted upon spending cuts amounting to more than $17 billion, or roughly one-third of the state's general fund, to balance state spending with revenues as the state constitution commands. In his final year as Governor, having aggressively marketed California's job creation after cutting taxes and job-killing regulatory excess, Wilson left his successor a surplus almost as great as the deficit he inherited.
At the same time, he insisted on reforming California's dangerously lenient criminal justice system. He became the first governor in America to sign a "Three Strikes" law which focused on repeat offenders and violent crime to protect the public. He was also the first governor to sign a bill authorizing charter schools to upgrade public schools in poor neighborhoods, and to offer funding to provide for class-size reduction in grades K-3.
After leaving the term-limited office of Governor of California in 1999, Wilson was elected to the Board of Trustees of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Museum was designated as America's official World War II Museum in 2003 by Joint Resolution of Senators Ted Stevens of Alaska and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. Wilson was elected as Chairman of the
Museum Board, serving from 2006 - 2008. Thereafter he has served as Chair of the Museum's Capital Campaign, to finance completion of buildout of its six-acre masterplan in 2023. Wilson announced completion of the $400 million fund-raising goal in June of 2022.
He also served on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (serving President George W. Bush) and the Defense Advisory Board (serving Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld).