Most people would probably know that Dianne Feinstein, who died this week at age 90, was a member of the U.S. Senate for a good long time (over 30 years). With her initial victory in a special election in November 1992, she became California’s first female to join that august body. But that wasn’t the first “first” she ever had attributed to her.
She was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969 and served as its first female president in 1978. Those of a certain age may well remember that on November 27th of that year, San Fran’s Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White. Because of her position as President of the Board, Feinstein immediately became Acting Mayor. On December 4, 1978, the board members elected her the city’s first female mayor. It was a position she held for the better part of a decade.
The Senator has been in poor health for a while now, so it was not altogether shocking to hear of her passing. Which is probably why Governor Gavin Newsome was able to very quickly appoint someone to fill Feinstein’s position. His choice was Laphonza Butler. Given California’s progressive/liberal political bent over the last few decades, Butler would seem to check many boxes that would make the majority of the electorate happy. Reports have said she’s a Black lesbian, worked in the labor movement for two decades (serving as President of Cali’s biggest union, SEIU local 2015), and has of late been President of Emily’s List, an organization that works to elect pro-abortion-rights Democrats across the country. She was also an advisor to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race, as well as a senior advisor on Kamala Harris’ 2020 bid for the White House.
There was some mention in the press that Butler actually lives in Maryland and not in the state she now represents. But that, no doubt, is a minor inconvenience easily rectified.
One thing that was interesting about the choice of Butler is that she apparently hadn’t expressed any desire to run for office in 2024. (Sen. Feinstein had already said she wouldn’t seek re-election.) There are currently at least three candidates who have declared their intentions. Sitting Democratic Representatives Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff are already trying to raise copious amounts of money and are glad-handing at every opportunity around the state. (No word on whether the Republicans will even field a candidate at this point.) Some pundits thought Newsome might select one of those senate-wannabes to give the Interim a leg up in the Primary and General Elections next year.
I also happened to see a report or two that mentioned a few other supposedly interested people whose names were floated as possible replacements for Feinstein. Perhaps the two most interesting (and certainly most prominent) ones were Oprah Winfrey and Meghan Markle. I’m thinking Oprah wouldn’t have liked the pay cut very much, nor having to attend rather mundane committee meetings on a regular basis. She probably could have livened up the proceedings in the staid Senate Chamber though.
Markle is a well-known resident of Montecito, CA, when she and Harry aren’t bunking at Buckingham Palace (which, it seems, doesn’t happen very often now). If rumors are true, Meghan has been networking among senior Democrats, perhaps to build a grassroots campaign that will one day springboard her into high office.
I actually had one other person in mind as an interim senator. A very close friend of mine, about whom I’ve written before, is an actress in Los Angeles. She’s now 80 years old, which apparently is a perfect age in politics these days. She’s been a soap opera star for well over half a century, so she’d be well-familiar with and know how to handle almost ANY drama that might occur in the Senate. And she’s even a native Californian, plus an avid Dodgers and Lakers fan, so you know she’d have her home state at heart whatever happened.
Alas, my opinion was not sought by the Golden State Governor. And while my friend would have been tops on my list, I’m sure Gavin Newsom thought long and hard about his selection. He probably had more than 20 million over-30 adults from which to choose. Maybe he even briefly thought about selecting someone from the multitudes of unhoused individuals currently living under one of the Interstate 5 overpasses in San Diego, LA, or San Francisco. Heck, that person might have checked even more boxes than Laphonza Butler.
©MMXXIII. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer