California Forum

Dianne Feinstein deserves thanks. But here’s why California should jettison her in 2018

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, talks to reporters in May about President Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. Some question her decision to run for reelection in 2018. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, talks to reporters in May about President Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. Some question her decision to run for reelection in 2018. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) AP

If the 2016 election taught us anything, it is that voters are looking for new ideas, new leadership and a new beginning to our politics.

They are frustrated that the turnover rate in Congress is lower than contemporary European monarchies. They believe public service should be a calling, not an entitlement for life.

In an era of unprecedented change, voters want leaders who understand the complex challenges of the 21st century economy. They seek leaders who have a vision for shared prosperity in places left behind and for the jobs of the future.

It is in this context that we should evaluate U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s decision to seek a fifth term in 2018, one that would extend to 2024.

We should certainly credit the senator for her 47 years of dedicated public service in local and national office. She has been a leading voice on gun safety legislation, and her passionate commitment stems from her own life experience.

She has been a trailblazer for many women entering public service. She often has delivered for California, most recently helping secure funding for electrification of Caltrain service between San Jose and San Francisco.

Why then should California seek a new voice and jettison years of seniority? Put simply, we are not living in ordinary times.

At stake are the fundamental values of what defines us as Californians and Americans. On the big questions of this new century, Feinstein has been wrong.

She was wrong to vote for the Iraq War. She was wrong to be the lead sponsor of the Patriot Act and then to push for its extension. She was wrong to support President George W. Bush’s expansion of the National Security Agency in conducting surveillance on U.S. citizens and collecting metadata.

She was wrong to introduce legislation to outlaw encryption, compromising the personal data and privacy of consumers. And she has consistently been wrong about restricting speech online, including supporting the Stop Online Piracy Act, which faced a backlash from netroots activists and millennials.

Apart from her problematic voting record, she has failed to show leadership on issues of income inequality. She has not offered any pathway to Medicare for All, even being dismissive of the goal itself.

She has failed to lead on issues of debt-free college. She has not introduced bold proposals to increase wages for working families. Although she undoubtedly shares core Democratic values, she is not pushing the envelope to offer an alternative to the current economic system, which so many Americans believe is rigged against them.

California can do better. Our state is home to some of the most innovative policy thinking in the nation and the most passionate grassroots activism. We deserve a senator who will help lead on the big issues in the years ahead. Sen. Kamala Harris has shown how much impact a new senator, who is eloquent and dynamic, can have on the national conversation within months of being sworn in.

That is why I have suggested that former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, arguably the most important public intellectual of our time, or Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, a voice for reasserting Congress’ role on matters of war and peace, would be extraordinary senators.

There are other candidates also worth considering. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León has helped deliver on a progressive vision. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, while more moderate, has stood up for our Constitution so effectively that Donald Trump gave him a nickname. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, has been fearless in pointing out the conflicts of interest and dangerous policies of the administration.

Joe Sanberg has done some of the most innovative work on expanding the earned income tax credit in California. I am sure others have their own favorites. The point is simply that there is no shortage of political talent in our state.

Washington insiders have told me that as a freshman member of Congress, it’s unwise to speak out against an incumbent of my own party. But who made these rules? Who said that elected leaders must always, unconditionally support their colleagues? Are these not the rules that most Americans find infuriating?

Sen. Feinstein certainly has earned the right to make her case for re-election. But other candidates deserve our attention as they make theirs. If California is to be a model for the nation, we can start by reinvigorating our democracy and giving voters a real choice this fall.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Santa Clara, was elected to Congress in 2016 and is vice chair of the Progressive Caucus, ro@rokhanna.com

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