Dianne Feinstein: A Trailblazing Life

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The past few days have been sad for many Americans, especially Californians. One of our true trailblazing women — in fact the first woman from the Golden State to become a U.S. Senator — passed away. Being one of the first woman to become U.S. Senators was just one of the accomplishments of the late Senator Dianne Feinstein.

In 1978 Feinstein was ready to get out of politics. A bomb was found at her home and her windows had been shot out. Bu the beloved senator became the mayor of San Francisco when her predecessor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated by a member of the city government.

In 1984 Feinstein was in consideration to be the running mate to the former vice president Walter Mondale, but Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY) got the call.

From 1978 to 1992 Diane Feinstein became a strong leader in California politics.

That all happened before I made my permanent move to California. I immediately registered to vote because California was about to make history: Two women from the Democratic Party were running to fill both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats.

In what can only be an oddity, the elections for those two senate seats, which aren’t supposed to be decided in the same year, were about to make history. The two women went on to win their elections. Besides my vote for Bill Clinton and Al Gore, I voted for both Feinstein and Boxer and a number of other down ballot Democrats.

In 1994 Feinstein helped push through the Desert Protection Act which changed the designations of several wildlife areas from national monuments to national parks. Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve which, many thought (and think) could save The Mojave Desert Tortoise and other threatened species.

Recently a wild fire torched much of the Mojave National Preserve, which no doubt has put severe pressure on the tortoise and other endangered species. It’s always been a mystery to me why there are several different levels of endangered plants or animals: Not Evaluated, Data Deficient, Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild and Extinct.

We have to include the flora as well. After the wild fire that tore through Joshua Tree National Park, Joshua Trees are now critically endangered. The tortoise is endangered.

YouTube screenshot https://youtu.be/5A3HbPhPwq0?si=kV5GyhMcywjR6BNi
Also courtesy of the National Park Service

Thanks to Senator Dianne Feinstein these plants and animals are now protected.

In that same year Feinstein pushed through the assault weapons ban that made it illegal to manufacture, transfer or own assault style weapons. But due to the stranglehold the NRA and other pro-gun groups have on congress it had a sunset date: September 13, 2004.

While we were all paying attention to the war in Iraq the ban expired and the gun manufacturers wasted no time churning out the weapons. According to Forbes Magazine over 2 million AR-15s and AK-47s entered into circulation, in 2020. If I’m doing the math right, we have put another 47.5 million assault weapons into circulation since the assault weapons ban expired.

Another fact: about 25% of American adults own the weapons in this country. According to the U.S. census there are roughly 258.3 million adults in the U.S. and 64,575,000 own all the privately held firearms in this country. I used to be a gun owner, but I got rid of them because I didn’t want to clean the guns or spend money on their upkeep. Had I been interested I may have purchased an AR-15.

Since 1978 one of Dianne Feinstein’s. most important policy ideal was gun safety, including another ban on assault weapons. After the murders of 26 people, 20 of them children from 6-7 years old, in Newtown, Connecticut, Feinstein got another ally in the Senate who wanted to do something about gun violence — like a ban on assault weapons. His name is Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Senator Murphy released this statement Friday:

“Dianne Feinstein will go down as a heroic, historic American leader, and I’m so grateful I got to know her and serve with her. She was the first woman to serve as mayor of San Francisco, the longest serving woman in the Senate, and an early and fearless champion of the gun safety movement as author of the monumental Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. For a long time, between 1994 and the tragedy in Newtown in 2012, Dianne was often a lonely but unwavering voice on the issue of gun violence. The modern anti-gun violence movement — now more powerful than the gun lobby — simply would not exist without Dianne’s moral leadership. My thoughts are with her family, friends, loved ones, and members of her staff as we all grieve this tremendous loss.”

Dianne Feinstein was a tireless advocate for civil liberties, LGBTQ-plus, minorities from every ethnic background, and especially our right to autonomy in our bodies and health care decisions. Like tens of millions of other American women, Dianne Feinstein was a fierce advocate for choice, i.e., the choice to have an abortion.

Many progressives felt that Feinstein stayed in office too long. She became the longest serving woman in U.S. Senate history. Sometimes I felt that way, and other times her steady leadership was welcome. We saw the leadership Rep. Nancy Pelosi gave to the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Pelosi hasn’t been a favorite of progressives these past 10 years, she is a little too conservative for my taste, but her strength and confidence in herself and the entire Democratic Caucus in the House is exactly what this nation needed — and this country needed Dianne Feinstein’s strength and confidence for most of her years in the senate.

Whether she stayed too long or not is a moot point now.

Like the late Senator Teddy Kennedy (D-MA) Dianne Feinstein was a lion of the upper chamber. May she rest in peace … and let’s hope California Governor Gavin Newsom can find someone who can break out from the long shadow of Dianne Feinstein.

Rest In Peace Dianne Feinstein.
June 22, 1933 — September 28, 2023

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Update on this story: California Governor Gavin Newsom named Laphonza Butler, president of the largest political action organization, Emily’s List, to finish out Dianne Feinstein’s term in the U.S. Senate.

Three prominent Democrats are running in the primary to replace Feinstein/Butler in the 2024 general election: Rep. Adam Schiff (CA 30), Rep. Barbara Lee (CA 12) and Rep. Katie Porter (CA 47). It is expected  that Butler will not run for the Senate seat in 2024.