Greetings from the political colossus of California, a restless state where even a stately Senate elder like Dianne Feinstein can’t take things for granted on the home front. California Democrats voted against endorsing her at a state party convention in an “embarrassing rebuke,” The Los Angeles Times reported. Delegates showed more support for her younger primary challenger, Kevin de Leon, the liberal state senate leader, though they did not officially endorse him.
This caused me to pause. Feinstein, at 84 the oldest senator, would be cherished as a treasure in southern states, which keep sending their experienced elders back to serve. Seniority counts in South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia and, most recently, West Virginia, whose faithful Robert C. Byrd was a fixture in the Senate for half a century until he died in 2010. Strong loyalty is one reason why the Senate feels faintly southern to this day.
Feinstein is no slouch marking time. She squarely faced President Trump at a televised White House meeting and suggested a “clean DACA bill” for young immigrants known as Dreamers. Trump appeared to assent, but the day was young. The moderate Democrat’s vote for the Iraq War may still hurt her in the bluest state. Internally in the Senate halls, she’s a presence that commands bipartisan respect for her record on the judiciary and intelligence committees. Early on, she defied the NRA with a bill to ban assault weapons, which passed in 1994, with President Clinton’s signature, but expired in 2004. Feinstein is the dean of the Senate women and the California congressional delegation, for what that’s worth.
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In California, which famously loves the new – tomorrow more than yesterday – that record alone will not move voter mountains. De Leon reflects a growing liberal chorus in state politics. Feinstein, the frontrunner, will have to work hard to keep her seat and presumably, serve until she’s 90 – like Byrd, who served until age 92. Then she would truly be an institution.
Speaking of that, the oldest name in California politics will soon be gone. 2018 will bring a generational changing of the guard to the governor’s office in Sacramento, since Jerry Brown is retiring at 79. That’s hard to believe of the youthful governor in the 1970s, when I was a schoolgirl. Chicago columnist Mike Royko called Brown “Governor Moonbeam” for his starry ideas.
Brown, whose father Pat was also the state governor, had two stints: back then and again in the last eight years, when even his critics say he has grown impressively into the job. So much so that he is one of the best progressive governors in the nation, especially on climate change and taming runaway state finances. He is a somewhat eccentric character, uniquely of this state, and many will miss saying “Gov. Brown.” He has made a place for himself in state history.
But what a bench, teeming with talent. Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, the Democratic lieutenant governor, is the likely successor to Brown. He’s 50 and leans left on guns and gays. He was the first politician to stake a claim on same-sex marriage, issuing 4,000 marriage licenses as mayor in 2004.
Consider these names: Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Ted Lieu, Rep. Eric Swalwell and Rep. Adam Schiff, all California Democrats. A freshman senator measured in manner, Harris comes up in chatter about a 2020 Democratic ticket. The three congressmen have come to national light since Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation began. They have all been vocal critics of the Trump administration. Schiff, the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has done public battle with the chairman, Republican Devin Nunes, and earned censure from Trump.
Nunes, it must be said, is likewise from California, representing Fresno. By most accounts of his furtive actions, he acts like the White House lookout on the committee. He shows another side of California than the three from city districts: Schiff and Lieu from Los Angeles, Swalwell from the Bay Area.
Los Angeles native Joe Mathews, who edits Zocalo Public Square, said, “We have enough political talent to staff the government of an entirely separate country. Which we soon may be.”