Feinstein Bows Out

[ Posted Tuesday, February 14th, 2023 – 16:55 UTC ]

Senator Dianne Feinstein announced today that she would not be seeking re-election next year. California is going to get an open Senate race for her seat instead. This announcement was anticipated, although nobody really knew what Feinstein was going to decide. But, speaking as a Californian, I am glad she chose to step down gracefully. Indeed, I urged her to do so six years ago.

Senator Feinstein has carved out an impressive legacy for herself, after serving in the Senate since 1992. She broke a lot of glass ceilings and just last year became the longest-serving woman in Senate history. When she first arrived in the Senate, there were two women senators. Now there are 25. She has a lot of accomplishments to show for her time in office as well, although I certainly didn't agree with many of them at the time. Feinstein is a much more centrist (or even right-leaning) Democrat than I would have preferred to have represent me, but I did appreciate at least some of her brave stands.

Some, but not all. Feinstein first came to my attention in a negative way in the decade-long debate (from 1995 to 2006) over passing a "flag-burning" amendment. I am strongly of the opinion that burning a flag in protest (or for any other reason) is protected under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed with this view. Many politicians did not -- or even if they did agree (that it was covered by the First Amendment), they thought it should be outlawed anyway. Feinstein led the fight on the Democratic side to get an amendment passed. I disagreed with her position at the time, and I still do.

Feinstein was also a big proponent of the War On Weed, and actually championed and led the effort for the "Vote No!" side when California passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2016. This was consistent, at least, as Feinstein had also opposed Proposition 215 in 1996, which was the first state law passed in the entire country that legalized medicinal marijuana use. Anyone familiar with my writing over the years will know that I strongly disagreed with Feinstein on this issue and was happy when a majority of California's voters agreed with me (although to be fair to her, the voters did agree with Feinstein the first time recreational marijuana legalization was on the ballot, the failed 2010 Proposition 19).

Feinstein has always been very pro-national security, which I have not always agreed with, but I will admit she did have one shining moment in the sun. While I disagreed with Feinstein's position on the USA PATRIOT Act and the FISA law and I also disagree with her position in favor of the federal government's surveillance powers, she did stand up to the national security state in a very profound way when she was the driving force behind the public release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the C.I.A.'s torture program during the whole "War On Terror" period. Feinstein was adamant that the public deserved to know what had been done in their name, and she was instrumental in getting the report declassified and released -- for which I am still thankful.

Of course, Senator Feinstein's crowning achievement was a law that only lasted for 10 years, since a subsequent Congress refused to renew it -- the assault weapons ban. From 1994 to 2004, sales of new assault rifles were banned in the United States largely as a result of Feinstein's work. I do not know if a similar law will ever pass through Congress again, but it was certainly a valiant attempt to rid America's streets of weapons of war.

Feinstein was a presence in the Senate. She was not some little-known backbencher. She led impressive committees. She always stood for her positions very strongly (which is admirable in its own way, even when I disagreed with her stance). But having said all of that, she overstayed her welcome.

When Feinstein first got elected to the Senate, California was actually only a purple state. It wasn't the deep-blue bastion it has become since then. Feinstein's centrism and strong support for the military and national security was a big plus for her when campaigning. But then after she secured her position, California changed. The state got more and more progressive over time. Feinstein didn't. What had been a good match with the 1992 electorate became a mismatch. But by the time this difference became wide and obvious, Feinstein was a political institution here, winning elections solely on the strength of her well-known name.

This was all fairly normal -- getting elected to the Senate often comes with almost built-in job security, in many states and for many senators. But even back in 2016 (the last time Feinstein ran for re-election) it was fairly obvious that she wasn't at her sharpest any more. Dianne Feinstein was born in 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression. She was a schoolgirl during World War II. She will turn 90 years old this year. When she was last re-elected, she was 85. Since she started her final term in office, she has shown distinct signs of not being fully compos mentis at times. Her short-term memory appears to be shot. This happens to many people as they age, of course, and there's nothing wrong with that. But she represents 40 million Californians who deserve better.

The race to replace Feinstein had already begun, before her announcement today. Two Democrats -- Representatives Adam Schiff and Katie Porter -- have already announced they'll be running for the seat. Representative Barbara Lee also seems like she'll be announcing any day now. And there's at least one other -- Representative Ro Khanna -- who might throw his hat in the ring as well. Any of which would be much more representative of where the California electorate is today. Whichever one comes out on top, it will be an exciting race now that Feinstein's name won't be on the ticket.

As I said, Dianne Feinstein has what I would call a mixed legacy in the United States Senate. But even I will admit it is a powerful legacy, through and through. She stood up for what she believed in, she didn't back down, and she was effective in the end on all kinds of issues. At times, she showed more leadership than any other Democrat in Washington. Californians will look back at her tenure with pride, in the future. Feinstein is determined to serve out her final two years (rather than allow Governor Gavin Newsom to name her replacement by stepping down now). That's fine -- she's earned that much. I thank her for her service for my adopted state, and I am looking forward to a very lively primary and general election to replace her.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


8 Comments on “Feinstein Bows Out”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    The Senate is a very interesting body from a horse race standpoint, given the demographic changes over the past few decades. Certain classes of senators are heavily skewed toward one party or the other, and a massive wave year will almost certainly be followed by a midterm backlash six years later.

  2. [2] 
    John M wrote:

    Actually Senators now very closely track the electoral college vote in a state. So if a state votes Democratic for president it will as a general rule have Democratic senators as well. Georgia being a case in point. Wisconsin being an exception, voting for both Biden and Ron Johnson.

  3. [3] 
    John M wrote:

    One final point on the aerial objects:

    Anything non military in American airspace has to have FAA clearance and Air Traffic Control clearance. That's true whether it is a private commercial drone flying near an airport or high enough to be in civilian airspace, a medical life flight or police helicopter, or a SPACEX launch of a rocket. So, if these other 3 objects are not Chinese spy balloons, what are they doing up thee without anybody officially knowing about them???

    I want answers, don't you? The public is owed that. Even if the objects are benign or commercial.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    John M,

    Do you think the government is hiding something from you?

  5. [5] 
    John M wrote:

    [4] Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    "John M,

    Do you think the government is hiding something from you?"

    Yes. I think the government is hiding that they don't really know what the objects are and don't want to admit to the public that they are clueless out of fear of appearing weak or powerless.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, I'll start to worry seriously when reports of this sort of thing come from places around the globe other than North America ...

  7. [7] 
    John M wrote:

    [6] Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    "Well, I'll start to worry seriously when reports of this sort of thing come from places around the globe other than North America ..."

    Well then I would definitely worry, because we do have multiple reports of similar objects coming out of South America as, including from I believe, both Costa Rica and Colombia.

    Reported sightings have also taken place over India, Japan and the Philippines as well.

  8. [8] 
    John M wrote:

    You know the American press. They hardly ever report on anything that happens outside the USA. They tend to ignore it, especially if it is a common report that happens all the time.

    Historically there was the unknown object photographed and tracked by the military of Chile in 2014. In fact, Chile and Peru together account for more such reports than any other area of the world.

    Then there was the Rendlesham Forest incident when Ronald Reagan was president. That happened in 1980, when Rendelsham, United Kingdom, at the time was the largest storage site of American nuclear weapons in all of Europe. Those objects have never been explained.

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