It’s safe to say that California politics will not see the likes of Dianne Feinstein again.
What a career it has been.
And it matters not, your own politics, to say that it is so.
It’s simply a fact.
And it’s not just the Golden State where she has wielded enormous influence. When she retires from the United States Senate early in 2025 at the age of 91, the comparisons will aptly note: Like Ted Kennedy before her, she is a lion of the Senate.
She has served in the Senate for three decades since winning a special election to the seat in 1992. She is one of the first two women elected to represent the largest and most important state in the nation in the body. And, since she was first elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in what now seems to be the ancient history of 1969, she has served Californians in public office over a period of six decades.
She was on that board in 1978, when the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk by former supervisor Dan White put her on the national stage. As board president, Feinstein succeeded Moscone as mayor and became the first woman mayor of San Francisco. A moderate Democrat of the kind that they apparently don’t make anymore, she was named the most effective mayor in the country by City & State magazine in 1987.
After a failed bid for governor, losing to Pete Wilson, Feinstein won the special election to take his seat in the Senate. During her time there, Feinstein was the first woman to have chaired the powerful Senate Rules Committee (2007–09) and the only woman to have chaired the Select Committee on Intelligence (2009–15).
And, yes, her confusion this week about whether she had even announced that she would not seek re-election very much shows how correct her decision not to run again was.
As The Hill reported, “A reporter asked Feinstein, 89, if she had any message for her Senate colleagues after her retirement statement was issued by her office. Feinstein asked the reporter what he was referring to, and he responded that he meant about her decision to not run for reelection. ‘Well, I haven’t made that decision. I haven’t released anything,’ she said. ‘Senator, we put out your statement,’ a staff member for Feinstein quickly cut in. ‘You put out the statement?’ Feinstein responded. ‘I should have known they put it out.’”
Yes, she should have. She likely did. And then forgot.
The official statement said that Feinstein would finish out her term, which ends in January 2025, but not run for reelection next year.
Obviously the absent-mindedness of age raises the question of whether or not Feinstein should even serve until then, but resign instead. The answer is bluntly practical: For Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint someone to the seat this late in the game would give some California politician — whether himself or some other Democrat — an unfair advantage of unearned incumbency in the 2024 race to replace her. She has a competent staff. She can soldier on.
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Former Gov. Jerry Brown — no spring chicken himself — gave Shawn Hubler of The New York Times a very sage appraisal of Feinstein: “She has a level of integrity that’s unusual — she really thinks about the merits, more than most. She gives her all to the job. And I think it has been difficult for her to come to the end.”
We would have agreements and disagreements with any politician who has served in government so long. She was wrong to vote for the Iraq war, for example, which she has since expressed considerable regret over, including to our editorial board.
But let’s allow Feinstein to go out on a high note: when the Senate Intelligence Committee she chaired reported on CIA torture after 9/11, Feinstein called the government’s detention and interrogation program a “stain on our values and on our history.” Feinstein also deserves credit for sometimes standing up the excesses of the left-wing of her party, including her public opposition to proposals like the Green New Deal (on the grounds that “there’s no way to pay for it”).