Even after seven people dropped out, 34 remain in the running to become the next U.S. senator from California. So it’s surprising there’s so little to choose from.
Setting aside the 29 candidates with no chance (including the one whose first name is “President”), the field narrows itself. Three Republicans are legitimate candidates, but not legitimate contenders. Two Democrats are both.
The June 7 election will winnow the field to two, who will square off in November. That’s most likely to be California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez, the outspoken representative from Orange County.
We recommend Kamala Harris, but not because we like her ideas. Candidate Harris is surprisingly noncommittal – which is what we should expect from someone known more for her political acumen than policy chops.
Harris’ most noteworthy accomplishment as attorney general was to reject the initial settlement offered by bankers after the 2008 mortgage-based financial meltdown. Other states were willing to take the $20 billion negotiated by federal authorities, but Harris refused. Soon, other states joined her and the settlement rose to $26 billion, of which California got $20 billion. She also got a Homeowners Bill of Rights to ensure fair lending. Here, at ground zero for the mortgage foreclosure crisis, that was important. We also like her positions favoring government transparency and sensible gun control.
But she has been too frequently silent on other issues. During Harris’ tenure, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature approved far-reaching criminal realignment; voters approved initiatives to soften the “three-strikes” measure and reduce sentences for some offenders – something opposed by virtually every district attorney in the state and most top cops. Harris wouldn’t commit.
She hasn’t taken a stand on legalizing recreational marijuana use and expansion of online gambling, including on fantasy sports, under the guise of having to represent the state if the matters go to court. We think it’s because she prefers to play it safe.
Water is always California’s most important topic. Here’s her policy position: Harris favors conservation. Duh.
She admitted knowing next to nothing about the two most significant proposed reservoir projects – Sites north of Sacramento and Temperance Flat on the San Joaquin. Both will require a federal champion and federal dollars.
Still, not having an opinion is better than having the wrong opinion. In talking to the combined editorial boards of McClatchy’s Valley newspapers, Sanchez supported Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to ship water beneath the Delta through twin 40-foot-wide tunnels – meaning more water from the San Joaquin River would be needed to “save” the Delta. The tunnels might help south-of-the-Delta farmers, but will be disastrous for those in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
With Harris and Sanchez splitting Democrats’ votes, a Republican might sneak into the top two. If so, we hope it’s Duf 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 (i.e., irrelevant) wing of the party.
Sundheim is wrong on high-speed rail, but isn’t yet sold on those tunnels; he’s 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 Supreme Court, he insists the Senate should give him a hearing – bucking Obstructionist in Chief Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Having Sundheim and Harris on the ballot would offer Californians the clearest choice in November.