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No time for rookies: Despite past missteps, stalwart Feinstein is still the answer

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Consider putting down your protest signs and sending Sen. Dianne Feinstein a thank-you note. (Courtesy photo)
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It’s official: Sen. Dianne Feinstein is in, planning to run for another six-year term in 2018. Since Republicans are without a bench for any office voted on statewide, the only real challengers would be from the left, given that we now have a nonpartisan, top-two primary in California.

I definitely consider myself to be to the left of her politics, but there’s no way I’d support anyone else.
Progressives have taken issue with Feinstein over the years on many issues where they felt she was too centrist. Too circumspect. A little too willing throw a wet blanket on acts of boldness. A little too old-school.

Sometimes, she explains her positions in ways that don’t make for inspiring sound bites (but do make for eye-grabbing headlines). Or comments that fall flat. Or sail right over heads. More than once, I have felt Feinstein was a little behind the times.

I wanted to see more enthusiasm when then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom directed the City Clerk to allow same-sex couples to marry in 2004. Instead, Feinstein expressed concern. “I think that whole issue has been too much, too fast, too soon,” was a memorable quip of hers.

Feinstein wasn’t expressing a personal opinion. She was expressing concern over the political reverberations and the impact it could have nationally on elections that year.

Did the Republicans use that issue to fire up the base that year and turn people out to defeat Democrats? You bet they did. She certainly could have said something else, but she was being honest with an eye toward policy implications. Too much authenticity in the moment earned her an “F” on that sound bite.

And remember when Edward Snowden was hailed as a hero by progressives and civil libertarians, while she was calling him a traitor and pushing back against those who wanted to dismantle the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court? Feinstein affirmed her support for FISA, citing a need for balancing individual protections with interests of national security and with insistence on congressional oversight on the process.

In a 2007 news release reaffirming her support, she mentioned the need for surveillance as a tool to fight “asymmetrical warfare.” You know, like wars deployed by a small group of people against entire nations through technology. (Huh? Sounds like something out of a dystopian, sci-fi movie. What was she talking about?)

At the time, those FISA courts were labeled as the imminent undoing of the Bill of Rights, with claims that they would result in warrants given out like candy to any G-man wanting to dig into our personal messages with our baes. Now, many people are saying that Paul Manafort’s discussions with Russian intelligence could very well be the lynchpin of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia. And it was all made possible by … wait for it … FISA courts!

I’ve worked with anti-GMO advocates who have felt disappointed by Feinstein’s votes on regulating GMOs, and she’s definitely not progressive enough for me on food policy. I ran the 2014 San Francisco soda tax campaign pro bono, because I felt a personal connection to the issue. It would never have occurred to me to ask for her endorsement; it just didn’t seem like it was in the cards.

If Trump is impeached, and even prosecuted for treason, and we’re stuck with a leader who, once again, doesn’t meet all of our expectations — but at least isn’t playing chicken with North Korea or pushing our nation toward an authoritarian police state — consider putting down your protest signs and sending Dianne a thank-you note.
Politics is deeply emotional, and we need firebrands to push the boundaries and remind us to practice what we preach. Sometimes, these bold ideas have a shot at becoming real policy, despite all the institutional barriers, like unlimited political spending allowed by corporations, thanks to Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United.

At the same time, replacing steady, experienced hands with those of a rookie in dire times seems pretty foolish.

Maureen Erwin is a Bay Area political consultant. Most recently she led Sonoma County’s Measure M, which will create the largest GMO-free growing zone in the U.S.

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