Sen. Barbara Boxer’s decision to retire after 24 years presents Valley voters with a grand opportunity to elect someone who will pay more than cursory attention to the middle of California and team with Sen. Dianne Feinstein to ensure that the state has the water it needs for residents, business and the environment.
There are 34 candidates on the June 7 primary ballot, nearly all of whom are running single-issue or vanity campaigns and have zero chance to advance to November’s general election.
From the field of serious candidates, we recommend to voters a Democrat, Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County, and a Republican, Duf Sundheim, a Palo Alto attorney.
Though state Attorney General Kamala Harris is leading the polls and strongly backed by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, Sanchez is better prepared to be California’s junior U.S. senator.
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Where Harris avoids political risk and tends to offer meaningless sound bites, Sanchez speaks her mind. Though her answers sometimes are wrong, such as in December when she suggested that up to 20 percent of Muslims are potential terrorists, we appreciate her willingness to tackle tough questions.
The big difference between Sanchez and Harris is in legislative experience and understanding the back-and-forth required to get bills passed. Sanchez holds senior positions on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee. A congresswoman doesn’t rise to these posts without the respect of colleagues.
Should the Republicans who run the House of Representatives ever abandon their build-a-bigger-wall, nativist impulses, Sanchez also is positioned to have a big role in immigration reform, which is vitally important to the Valley.
And on water – the defining 21st-century issue for California – Sanchez has far greater command of the subject than Harris, who has had next to nothing to say other than that we should all conserve.
It’s also clear to us that Sanchez would fight harder and more effectively to brighten the prospects of residents in California’s interior. She is a frequent visitor to the Valley and knows its economic and educational challenges. Furthermore, as the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a product of Head Start and public schools, her election to the Senate would provide inspiration to millions of Mexican Americans, young and old.
To her credit, Harris pushed hard to get $20 billion for the state from the national litigation over the mortgage meltdown, and has taken strong stands in favor of government transparency and sensible gun control.
But she has been silent on too many criminal justice issues. During Harris’ tenure, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature approved far-reaching criminal justice realignment. Voters approved initiatives to soften the “three-strikes” measure and reduce sentences for lower-level offenders. She was absent from those debates, as she has been largely absent from the debate over marijuana legalization.
She justifies this silence by saying she must represent the state in court, although past attorneys general have found ways to take stands. Such timidity does not speak well for her candidacy.
With Harris and Sanchez splitting Democrats’ votes, a Republican might sneak into the top two. If so, we hope it’s Sundheim – a former Stanford football player and party chair back when the GOP was relevant. Ron Unz, who ran for governor in 1994, wants to blame every ill – from climate change to low wages – on undocumented immigration. Tom Del Beccaro represents the ultraconservative wing of the party.
Sundheim opposes high-speed rail, and isn’t yet sold on the governor’s twin-tunnels Delta proposal. But he’s also not willing to wage culture war over a woman’s right to choose, immigration, higher wages or climate change.
It’s one thing to disagree over policies, entirely another to get in the way of governance. For instance, while Sundheim is unsure about Merrick Garland’s qualifications for the U.S. Supreme Court, he insists the Senate should give the judge a hearing – bucking the obstructionist in chief, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Having Sanchez and Sundheim on the ballot would offer Californians two excellent but markedly different candidates in November.