Barabak: Wanting Feinstein to retire isn’t ageist or sexist
Today we answer questions about ageism, sexism and the rompin’, stompin' contest to succeed Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate.
So now that Feinstein is retiring, the race is underway!
Whoa. Hold up, pony. Feinstein has yet to publicly state her intentions. She said she'll announce sometime this spring whether she plans to retire at the end of her term in January 2025 or seek reelection a sixth time.
She’s like, what, 150 years old?
Feinstein is 89, which makes her the oldest member of the U.S. Senate, by a matter of 12 weeks and three days.
The next-oldest senator, Iowa’s Charles Grassley, was handily reelected in November to a new six-year term after facing token opposition in the GOP primary. He’ll be 95 when his term expires in January 2029.
Feinstein, by contrast, has already drawn two serious challengers within her party, Democratic Reps. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff. Rep. Barbara Lee has told congressional colleagues she plans to run and there may be more candidates to come.
Sounds like sexism to me.
Unlike Grassley, Feinstein has faced persistent questions about her performance in the face of a conspicuous decline in mental capacity. She’s gotten by these past few years with a lot of help from Senate staff and I, for one, argued that barring obvious incapacity, Feinstein deserves to finish her term without being shoved aside.
But running again would be a terrible idea. She’s clearly not up for the rigors of a campaign — much less another six years in the Senate — and would surely, and deservedly, lose her try for reelection. That would be a sad and embarrassing coda to a remarkable, history-making career.
What about those vultures who are running?
Jeez. That’s harsh.
Feinstein’s would-be successors have shown her plenty of deference. But this is politics, Jake. It’s going to take a lot of time for candidates to raise the money and build the statewide name recognition they need to seriously compete in a primary that’s just about a year off.
And let’s be honest. Feinstein’s mental lapses have been chronicled at length in great, sometimes painful detail. Jockeying to replace her has been quietly underway for some time, with prospective candidates hiring staff, traveling the state, collecting political chits and doing everything short of hanging a big neon sign declaring their intentions.
Be glad all that activity is finally taking place out in the open.
I was pondering California's last open-seat Senate race. It wasn’t like this one.
Don’t have much a life, do you?
Just answer the question.
You are correct.
When Democrat Barbara Boxer announced her intention to retire after 2016, the biggest question was which new office Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris, frenemies from their days starting out in San Francisco politics, would pursue.
Newsom, then lieutenant governor, opted to run for governor in 2018, clearing the way for Harris, the state attorney general, to seek the Senate seat against the hapless Rep. Loretta Sanchez.
Why such a weak field compared with this one?
It may be hard to believe, given her dismal political image these days, but Harris was seen at the time as something of a political Goliath.
She had twice run successfully for statewide office. She was female and had a political base in the San Francisco Bay Area, both of which were big pluses in a statewide contest.
And even then Feinstein's age came into play. There were doubts she would run again in 2018 and, given Harris' perceived advantages, most potential rivals decided it was better to wait and see rather than take the front-runner on.
So I’m looking forward to a positive, issue-oriented campaign.
On which planet are you living?
Given California’s political coloration, the state’s next U.S. senator will surely be one of the Democrats running. And from a substantive standpoint, there is no dramatic separation between the candidates on most of the major issues they would face in office. You can be certain, if elected, each would vote the same more than 9 times out of 10.
So the next year of campaigning — and longer if fellow Democrats emerge from the top-two primary — will be devoted to turning small differences into major distinctions and tearing down the character of one another.
You can expect a lot of negativity as the candidates and their supporters focus on style, the contestants’ personal backgrounds and such fine-grained distinctions as being a “warrior” (Porter) vs. a “fighter” (Schiff).
Aren’t you being a bit negative?
Facts are facts.
Schiff had been in the Senate race for, oh, all of 10 minutes when he came under attack from progressive activists for being too centrist — which, not incidentally, was the criticism Feinstein faced from fellow Democrats throughout her career.
So get ready. If you enjoyed watching Bernie Sanders take on Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, you'll love California's Senate race.
Speaking, again, of candidates of a certain age …
You're referring to Barbara Lee?
She’s 76. She'll be 78 on Election Day in 2024.
Katie Porter is 49. Schiff is 62.
So, obviously, age is the big issue that Lee faces — especially running to take Feinstein's place.
Her response, according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joe Garofoli, will be a pledge to serve just a single term, as a kind of bridge to a new generation of leaders.
Funny thing is not long ago — when the septuagenarian Jerry Brown was governor and California's two U.S. Senate seats were held by politicians north of 70, there was all sorts of clamor for fresh blood and a desire for the state’s geriatric leadership to stand aside and give other, younger politicians a chance to serve.
Maybe everything old is new again.
Mark Z. Barabak is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
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