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Logjam ends, replacing Boxer could be first race of new era

This year’s election is over, and the main Tuesday result in California was not the least bit surprising: Four more years of Gov. Jerry Brown working with a Democratic-dominated Legislature.

But the next election season began the moment this year’s ended, and every indication is that the long logjam that has frustrated ambitious Democrats for most of the last two decades will now break up.

For Brown, about to start his fourth term as governor, cannot run again for that office and is highly unlikely to try for any other. Four years from now, he will be 80. He tried for president and failed while in his 30s and 40s, and no one over 69 has ever been elected for the first time as the nation’s leader. So as healthy and vigorous as Brown appears, he’ll be finished when he’s termed out in four years.

At the same time, Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer may not seek a new six-year term. A four-termer, Boxer has been considered one of the most vulnerable senators before each of her last three runs. But Boxer always won, in part due to her hard work.

Her last run, in 2010, was typical. She held coffees in living rooms from Chico and Eureka to the suburbs of San Diego and many points east and in between. “It’s always hard for me,” she said in an interview while running. “Every six years, there are millions of new voters and I am constantly having to re-introduce myself to them.”

At 75 when her current term ends two years from now, the onetime Marin County supervisor may simply retire to her current home in the desert resort town of Rancho Mirage. Six years ago, as she readied her run, Boxer’s campaign kitty held $3.6 million. By contrast, a month ago it stood at just $200,000.

Already 81 and now the oldest member of the Senate, Boxer’s longtime colleague Dianne Feinstein will be 85 when her current term ends in 2018. Vigorous as she is, will she want a new six-year commitment to continual red-eye cross-country airline flights? Especially since the Republican takeover of the Senate will move her out of her chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee, will she find it worth the trouble to run? The regretful guess here is no.

Add this to the departures in this year’s election of California congressional kingpins like George Miller, Henry Waxman and Buck McKeon and it’s clear California is developing an entirely new political elite.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor, and state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, previously the San Francisco district attorney, both plainly aspire to lead, although it’s unclear whether either will go after Boxer’s seat in 2016 if she opts out, or wait until 2018, when two top-of-ticket jobs could be open.

They are not alone. Proven office-holders like John Chiang, the current state controller and newly-elected treasurer, may want higher office. Could billionaire investor Tom Steyer, long a large contributor to liberal candidates and causes, become the next big-bucks, self-funded candidate? Will current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti try for a top statewide office? How about his predecessor, the limitlessly ambitious Antonio Villaraigosa?

And there could be Michelle Obama. She and her presidential husband reportedly bought a house in Rancho Mirage earlier this year, not far from Boxer. So despite current denials, First Lady Michelle, like Hillary Clinton before her, might try picking off a Senate seat from a state where she never previously lived. Of course, this sort of thing hasn’t worked well for past newcomers to California.

On the Republican side, the persistent and spirited showing of this fall’s gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari makes him an intriguing figure. And San Diego County Congressman Darrell Issa has long lusted after a Senate seat, while Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s strong campaign for state controller could give her a future.

The upshot is that California is in for an interesting four years of politicking, with the old guard that has dominated state affairs for more than 20 years about to give way to younger people. Only time will tell whether that’s good or bad for most Californians.

Email Thomas Elias at [email protected]. For more Elias columns, go to