EDITORIAL: No free ride for Feinstein's re-election

2017-10-12 | San Francisco Chronicle

Oct. 11--The speculation has ended: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is running for another term in 2018, when she will turn 85. Much of the Democratic establishment immediately announced their support for the former San Francisco mayor who has served in the Senate since 1992.

But this does not end the speculation game. Though some ambitious fellow Democrats who were awaiting her decision -- most notably Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank -- lined up to endorse her, the deference was not universal.

This is how a democracy is supposed to work. Leaders of an incumbent's party may prefer to avoid it, but competition is healthy. It compels incumbents to lay out their vision for a potential next term, and it allows challengers to make the case that their policies or personas are better suited to represent the state's ever-evolving interest.

It gives voters a choice.

There is no question that Feinstein will be a formidable front-runner. She has been re-elected four times. She is the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and has been a force on issues ranging from gun control to climate change to privacy. She is willing to work across party lines and to compromise when necessary to get things done, traits that are too rare and much needed in Washington.

Her center-left orientation and bipartisan sensibility nevertheless frustrate the more pure-left elements of her party. Her announcement drew a few distinct flares of Democratic resistance. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Fremont, called her "out of touch with the grassroots" on issues such as single-payer health care and foreign policy. He claimed no interest in the seat, but he has been trying to persuade others to jump in. Tom Steyer, a billionaire who has been toying with running for office, said he was "still looking at all options." Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, soon to be termed out, was tellingly silent about his plans.

So it's apparent that Feinstein has not cleared the field in her own party.

Moreover, California Republicans can ill afford to allow the Democrats to win by default, especially after two of their high-profile names, former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, opted not to run for governor. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he is not interested in running for Senate. The Republicans likely will need to enlist a candidate with deep pockets or wide name recognition to avoid being shut out of the two big races in the November 2018 general election.

Feinstein, with a huge lead in the polls, refused to debate her GOP opponent in 2012. That was unacceptable. No elected official, even one with the distinguished record and legislative skills of Feinstein, ever should expect or receive an automatic renewal for another term.

A challenge from an incumbent is not an act of betrayal. It is an exercise in democracy. Let the campaign begin.

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