Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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40 and Not Fabulous, for California Democrats

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Time magazine has just published its “40 Under 40” list — in its words: “in an epic election cycle, a new generation of civic leaders . . . already at work trying to fix a broken [political] system — and restore faith in the process.”

Something noticeable about this roster of men and women: there’s not a single post-60’s Democrat who either now holds office in California or, at present, is running for an office.

By contrast, two California Republicans made the list: Rep. Devin Nunes, who turned 37 earlier this month and is now finishing his fourth term in Congress (from the San Joaquin Valley); and Damon Dunn, a former Stanford football standout who’s all of 34 and making his maiden political voyage in California’s Secretary of State race (I’ll have more to say about the very personable Mr. Dunn between now and Election Day).

Here’s what should concern California Democrats. Let’s assume Jerry Brown is elected governor and Barbara Boxer gets another term in the U.S. Senate. That would leave the four most recognizable Democrats in the Golden State — Brown, Boxer, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and (soon to be former?) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with one thing in common: age.

Boxer turns 70 on November 11; Pelosi came face to face with 70 candles on the cake this past March. Brown is two years older; Feinstein, who’s five years Brown’s elder, will be 79  in 2012 when she has to decide on whether to run for a fourth full term. Another California Democrat soon to join this club: State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who turns 70 next May.

Not a good look for California Democrats

This is not to suggest that the upper echelon of the California Democrat Party resembles a bunch of doddering old, hamburg-wearing Soviets reviewing a May Day parade.

But, should Brown and Boxer each manage to go down to defeat, it does mean Democrats here could be looking at a generational shift — perhaps not coincidentally, much the same way that California Democrats ended up with a 30something gubernatorial candidate way back in the mid-1970s (whatever happened to that guy?).

Granted, youth is somewhat served in this year’s slate of California Democrat candidates. Attorney General hopeful Kamala Harris turns 46 next week. And San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, locked in a tight race for lieutenant governor, turned 43 this past week. However, Harris is the California Democratic nominee considered most likely to lose this fall. And Newsom bombed as a gubernatorial candidate.

I think this is worth remembering should Meg Whitman take occupancy of the governor’s office next fall. If Brown loses, it’s for a lot of reasons: a reform agenda that was too opaque; a personality that at times is hard to take; a record that is more lengthy than it is landmark.

But somewhere in the rubble would be Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Why Newsom? Because, were he the Democrats’ nominee, this contest would be a much more interesting conversation about social progressivism, as embodied in Newsom’s advocacy for same-sex marriage.

As for Villaraigosa, at one time he was considered the heir apparent for rising Latino clout in California elections.

Because neither mayor could cut it as a gubernatorial candidate (Newsom tried and failed; Villaraigosa didn’t run, but might have were it not for his dismal mayoral record), California’s gubernatorial contest is obsessed with the past (how Jerry ran his state and his city; how Meg made her money and treats the help) and not focusing, as it rightly should, on the future.

As a result, California suffers.

And so too might California Democrats — if age proves an unworthy substitute for youth.


Written by Bill Whalen

October 14, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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