Dianne Feinstein, the first woman to be elected Senator in California and a longstanding figure in the national political scene, died Sept. 28 at her home in Washington, D.C., as reported by the New York Times. Though many are now praising her accomplishments, that was not the case just a few weeks ago, and her final months in office were marked by steep criticism. No matter her political position, we should remember Senator Feinstein as a trailblazer for women in politics.
Feinstein became San Francisco’s first female mayor after the 1978 assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. She served as mayor for nine years before winning the 1992 Senate race alongside Barbara Boxer.
Feinstein served as a Democratic senator for California from 1992 until her death. She served on several Senate committees during her tenure, including the Committee on the Judiciary, where she held positions as Chair and Ranking Member at different times, contributing to major debates on issues like gun control and judicial nominations. She was also a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, focusing on national security and surveillance matters.
California Governor Gavin Newsom announced he will appoint Laphonza Butler, longtime labor leader and president of EMILY’s List, as temporary senator on Oct. 1. She will serve out the rest of Feinstein’s term, which ends in January 2025. “Butler is the first openly LGBTQ person to represent California in the Senate,” Politico reported. Newsom fulfilled his 2021 promise to appoint a Black woman not already running in the 2024 Senate race, according to AP News.
According to state law, “a special election must now take place to fill the remainder of Ms Feinstein’s term, even after Mr. Newsom appoints a temporary senator,” according to the BBC.
What complicates matters is the preexisting race to fill Feinstein’s seat in the regularly scheduled November 2024 election. Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Adam Schiff, Rep. Katie Porter, all Democrats from California, are the three currently declared Senate candidates in the regular blanket election. The concurrent elections “may confuse some voters who will have to vote for the same seat twice on election day,” the BBC reported.
Candidates may run in both elections. There are currently no declared candidates running in the special elections. According to Politico, “if [Butler] runs in the special elections, there’s no guarantee she would win. That could mean Feinstein is replaced by [Butler], who is succeeded by someone else, who is followed by Lee, Porter or Schiff.”
In the meantime, Senate Democrats will be down one until Newsom officially appoints Butler, narrowing their majority to 50-49, including three independents who typically vote with Democrats. As NBC reports, the earliest possible date for that confirmation would be Oct. 3. Though, according to AP News, “there are no major votes looming in the Senate that are expected to fall totally along party lines.” Republicans have also announced they will not impede Butler from taking on Feinstein’s seat on the Judiciary Committee, something Democrats had concerns about.
Feinstein was a vocal champion for gun control, supporting then-president Bill Clinton’s 1994 assault weapons ban and advocating for restrictions since the ban’s expiration, according to NBC.
Throughout her political career, Feinstein aimed to reach across the aisle and bring Americans together. Across the political spectrum, we could all learn a thing or two from her leadership style.
Across the political spectrum, our nation’s leaders have come together to honor Feinstein’s legacy. As San Franciscans, Californians, and Americans, we should do the same.