Dan Walters: California's 70-plus Democrats hang on to power

11/30/2012 12:00 AM

02/26/2013 8:19 PM

This month's election not only bolstered Democrats' total control of California's politics but also tightened the grip of party leaders who will never see their 70th birthdays again.

It's only mildly hyperbolic to say that California's Democratic oligarchy is beginning to resemble the geriatric cabals that control China, Cuba and other one-party states. They've got the power and show no signs of giving it up.

Dianne Feinstein (79) was just re-elected to another six-year term in the U.S. Senate, and her colleague, Barbara Boxer (72) still has four years remaining in her current term.

Gov. Jerry Brown (74) won a symbolic referendum on his second governorship when voters passed his tax measure, Proposition 30, and is quite likely to seek another term in 2014, and would be 80 when that stint ends.

John Burton (80 next month) appears to have become state Democratic Party chairman for life after long careers in the Legislature and in Congress.

And while Nancy Pelosi (72) didn't recapture control of Congress, as she had hoped, she nonetheless continues as House Democratic leader.

There's nothing wrong per se with being a septuagenarian.

Your correspondent, in fact, will reach that stage in life next year. And none of the above shows signs of senility or any other debilitating afflictions of age, despite occasional accusations to that effect.

The real impact of the 70-somethings' grip on the hierarchy of the state's increasingly dominant political party is on those in the party's younger generation who'd like to move up, such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (45), Attorney General Kamala Harris (48), Controller John Chiang (50), Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (50) and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (60 in January).

Some are more overtly ambitious than others, but certainly all would, if given reasonable opportunities, like to become governor or U.S. senator. However, none can make those kind of moves as long as the party elders cling to power.

Chiang and Jones might stick around by playing musical constitutional offices as term limits force them out of their current positions.

Chiang, it's said, is considering a swap of jobs with Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who's another septuagenarian (71). Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco, is clearly chafing in the meaningless lieutenant governorship and occupies his time with a cable TV talk show.

Harris can run for another term in 2014. Her name also surfaces as a potential Barack Obama Supreme Court appointee.

The politico who's really stuck is Villaraigosa, whose rocky tenure as mayor of Los Angeles will end soon.

He's made it clear he'd love to be governor, but with that blocked, appears to be angling for an Obama Cabinet job, perhaps as secretary of transportation.

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