It’s been 35 years since California faced simultaneous vacancies in the U.S. Senate and the governorship.
In 1982, virtually every ambitious politician in California reached for the top rungs.
Republican Attorney General George Deukmejian bested Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Curb in the primary and squeaked by Tom Bradley, Los Angeles’ Democratic mayor, to become governor.
Democrat Jerry Brown gave up the governorship after two terms to run for the U.S. Senate, but lost to Pete Wilson, the Republican mayor of San Diego, who had emerged from a crowded primary.
Could it happen again next year?
We already know that Brown will retire from the governorship for a second time, and about a half-dozen Democrats are in the mix to replace him.
When Dianne Feinstein, the state’s 83-year-old U.S. senator, announced this week that she had had a pacemaker implanted, it renewed speculation that she might step down in 2018 after 26 years in the Senate.
Even before her announcement, former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown speculated she would retire and anoint Jerry Brown as her successor.
Another version of the scenario would have Feinstein resign, citing her health problems and those of her husband, wealthy investor Richard Blum, followed by Jerry Brown’s resignation from the governorship and his appointment to the Senate by newly crowned Gov. Gavin Newsom.
That version would allow both Brown and Newsom to seek election to full terms as incumbents, freezing out the many others who yearn for the state’s top political positions.
That’s all just speculation, of course, but as long as it’s less than 100 percent certain that Feinstein will seek another six-year Senate term next year, politicians and pundits – Willie Brown is both these days – will continue to wonder who’s really going to be running for what next year.
Whatever happens, it is almost certain to happen only among Democrats because, unlike 1982, Republicans are almost completely out of the picture, and the top-two primary is in force.
The only GOP figure who even enters the speculative picture is Kevin Faulconer, another mayor of San Diego, but he’s an uber-cautious politician who might like to hold statewide office but is highly unlikely to make a kamikaze run for it.
Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Treasurer John Chiang and former state schools superintendent Delaine Eastin are the major Democrats already running for governor.
However, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer is certainly acting like a candidate for something big, now that joining a Hillary Clinton administration has disappeared, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is being touted in some circles.
Were Feinstein to step down, Jerry Brown would at least give the Senate a thought 36 years after losing to Wilson, and we might see any of the above jump in, as well as Secretary of State Alex Padilla or Burbank Rep. Adam Schiff, who’s clearly trying to raise his profile as a foreign policy/intelligence expert.
It could be, like 1982, highly entertaining.