The California Political Logjam Breaking Up

For the vast number of ambitious Democratic politicians in California, recent history has been very frustrating. The state’s two Senate seats have been tied up since 1992 by Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein. And since 2010 Jerry Brown has reigned supreme in Sacramento. So Baby Boomers and post-Boomer cohorts alike watched themselves age in the mirror each day as three pols born prior to the Pearl Harbor attacks dominated Golden State Democratic politics.

The first break in the logjam occurred when Boxer announced last week that she’d retire at the end of her term, which runs through 2016. Brown will be term-limited in 2018, and Feinstein’s up that year as well, when she’ll be 85. So there’s a complicated game of musical chairs going on to figure out who will run for what.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom made the first move, announcing he would not run for Boxer’s seat and probably would run for governor. His long-time Bay Area rival Attorney General Kamala Harris promptly announced for the Senate. It’s not clear whether they had a prior agreement, or if Newsom forced Harris’ hand, or if it just happened that way.

But there’s no guarantee Newsom or Harris will win nomination to the new jobs they want. Pols said to be considering a “move up” the ladder to governor or Senator include U.S. House members Jackie Speier (another Bay Area figure). Loretta Sanchez, and Adam Schiff; former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villagairosa; current L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti; State Treasurer John Chiang; Secretary of State Alex Padilla; and billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer. There are the usual NorCal/SoCal rivalries, and ideological issues (Newsom, Schiff, Sanchez and Villagairosa are not terribly popular among self-conscious progressives). The one thing nobody’s seriously talking about at present is a viable Republican candidacy, at least since Condi Rice quickly said she had no interest in Boxer’s seat. But the maneuvering will continue for quite some time.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.