COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | THOMAS ELIAS

Stymied House Demos may give state a real Senate race

Democrats in Congress will never say so publicly, but they know they have little or no hope of taking back control of the House of Representatives until 2022 at the earliest.

That's because gerrymandering in such states as Texas, Georgia and North Carolina has concentrated the many Democratic voters in those places into just a few congressional districts, leaving all the rest safe for the GOP.

It's the same thing Democrats did in California before the advent of the Citizens Redistricting Commission, which drew today's lines and led to a slew of highly competitive races last year, with more to come in 2016.

This reality has heavy implications for the U.S. Senate candidacy of Kamala Harris, California's attorney general and a former San Francisco district attorney.

And if veteran Democratic members of Congress believe their party has little chance to regain control of the House, they will have little chance ever to become powerful committee chairs pushing their agendas. So long as their party is doomed to minority status, they can do little more than try to fend off Republican proposals they see as outrageous.

Like many in hopeless situations, they begin to look elsewhere. This is one reason former Democratic committee chairs from California such as Henry Waxman and George Miller retired from Congress. It's a large, unstated reason for the departure of the latest announced retiree, Lois Capps of Santa Barbara.

As they cast about for ways to be effective, Democrats had nowhere to go except retirement through the first several years of the current GOP domination in the House.

But then Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer announced she'll retire after next year. Chances for Democrats to take over the Senate are much stronger than in the House, because no party manipulation of district lines is involved there.

That's why, as other prospective Democratic rivals of Harris' Senate candidacy began to drop out — such as Lt. Gov. and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — members of Congress kept seriously examining the Senate race.

Among them are Orange County's Loretta Sanchez, Xavier Becerra of East Los Angeles and Adam Schiff of Burbank.

Each would bring their own strengths to a race with Harris, who so far has only two declared opponents: Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of Oceanside and Tom Del Beccaro, a former state GOP party chairman.

Sanchez, an 18-year House veteran who upset longtime Republican incumbent Robert (B-1 Bob) Dornan in 1996, and Becerra, a member of the Democratic House leadership, are not likely to oppose each another. But neither would likely be scared off by Schiff.

All are liberals and would bring a Southern California presence to a statewide Democratic scene long dominated by Bay Area politicians Boxer, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Newsom, Gov. Jerry Brown and state party Chairman John Burton.

If Sanchez, Becerra or Schiff can arouse resentment in Southern California of that northern domination, any of them could be a formidable candidate against Harris, a protégé of former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

Sanchez or Becerra would also bring a Latino element into the race, the same factor that drove Villaraigosa's brief flirtation with a run. Neither they nor Schiff have had brushes with scandal, unlike Villaraigosa and Newsom, both with histories of womanizing.

For sure, Democrats have depended on Latinos for their dominance of California politics, but have never propelled a Hispanic into a top-of-the-ticket governor or Senate slot. That could change next year.

Any of the three Congress members thinking seriously of a Senate run would run one risk Harris does not have: She does not have to give up her current office to run, while they would need to.

But the new Democratic reality of long-term minority status in the House changes their equations a bit. All are frustrated at their inability to regain power anytime soon, which greatly reduces the risks of making a run.

So it's a safe bet that at least one of the three will jump in and give voters a much more interesting race than they'd have if Harris were, in effect, awarded the office by default.


Elias is the author of “The Burzynski Breakthrough,” available in a soft-cover fourth edition. His email address is tdelias@aol.com.

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