Thomas Elias: Impeachment role makes Schiff a top California prospect
It’s been clear for several years, that U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff would love to run for the U.S. Senate. So would California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, best known as a constant irritant for President Trump, and several others.
But Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the chief prosecutor in Trump’s impeachment trial, has a big leg up on his competition because of his months in the national limelight managing the effort to oust a president for the first time ever.
If running an impeachment effort should propel Schiff into the Senate, it would be a ironic sign of the massive changes California politics has seen over the last 25 years.
The congressman would likely have run for the Senate two years ago if veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein, then 84, had opted to retire. His current 28th District covers a swath of Los Angeles County stretching along the Highway 134 Ventura Freeway from Burbank through Glendale into Pasadena, with tentacles reaching south into West Hollywood and sections of Los Angeles.
But Feinstein stayed on, easily winning reelection in 2018 because the state Republican Party’s bench is so short the GOP could not find a significant candidate to run against her.
Her term ends in 2024, when Gov. Gavin Newsom, who may be in his second term by then, will more likely be running for president than for the Senate. A Democratic victory this year, however, would change that presumption. Newsom, for one possibility, might conceivably be vice president in that case.
But so could California’s junior senator, Kamala Harris. Having dropped her presidential bid before this election year even started, Harris might also be vice president. If she were, it would put her Senate seat up for grabs in 2022, no matter who Newsom might appoint to that spot on a temporary basis. Temporary U.S. senators from California have not often done well when running on their own to keep the office: Feinstein, for example, first won her slot in 1992, running against the appointed Republican John Seymour.
All this says more about what’s befallen the state GOP than it does about the many Democratic possibilities. Among other potential candidates in what could be a crowded field are Becerra, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Lt. Gov. Elena Kounalakis and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Why no Republicans in this early mix? The state’s GOP has virtually no corps of qualified aspiring candidates waiting in the wings for seats to open up. Republicans have managed to elect only one top-of-ticket statewide official in the 22 years since ex-Gov. Pete Wilson left office in 1998.
That was ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won his office in the recall election that ousted Democrat Gray Davis. He very likely could not have won a normal Republican primary because of his moderate views. GOP voter registration has fallen below 25 percent and the party can’t even muster one-third of the seats in either house of the Legislature.
In this mix, Schiff is now the most prominent prospect. Ironically, the former state senator won his seat in Congress – now considered safely Democratic – by ousting former Republican Rep. James Rogan, once a House prosecutor in the impeachment trial of ex-President Bill Clinton. Rogan later became a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
If Schiff should emerge as a senator within the next four years, it would mark the end of a totally unprecedented run of San Francisco area politicians controlling the top California electoral offices. Newsom and predecessor Jerry Brown have held the governor’s office the last 10 years, while Feinstein, Harris and retired Sen. Barbara Boxer have controlled the state’s two Senate seats for 28 years.
All have strong Bay Area roots, especially Feinstein and Newsom as former San Francisco mayors and Harris as a district attorney.
It’s no coincidence that city’s ultra-liberal politics have become de rigueur in the state Capitol, while more moderate views common in other parts of California wield little influence.
Schiff could change some of this, but he will first have to sustain the prominence into which impeachment has thrust him.
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit http://www.californiafocus.net
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