Don’t ask Dianne Feinstein just yet whether she plans to run for a fifth full term in the U.S. Senate, a seat that will be on the ballot in 2018.
“I’ve got two years and nine months — ask me that in about a year,” Feinstein said with a grin Thursday during a meeting with Los Angeles Times editors and reporters. “I’ll give you the answer then.”
Feinstein’s plans have been a hot topic among California politicians for years; she and Sen. Barbara Boxer ran and won seats in 1992, and Boxer will retire after her replacement is elected in November.
Behind the two senators, a generation or two of Democratic politicians have gathered, frustrated by their lack of upward movement. But the Democrat and former mayor of San Francisco said she would decide whether to run again based not on that but on whether she can continue to be effective.
“My health is good,” said Feinstein, who is 82. “I can work hard and continue it. Being effective is the key for me.”
The state’s senior senator has not endorsed a candidate in the race to replace Boxer, and said she will not do so until after the June primary.
But she has very definitive views about the kind of senator California needs.
“I think you have to have a willingness to do your apprenticeship and to really do the work,” she said.
“I see people who go back there, who get a few puff pieces, who run for president — I don’t think that makes a lot of sense to me,” she said. “I don’t think that’s the kind of senator this state needs. I think you need somebody who is really going to do the job and hopefully work with me closely.”
Feinstein does have a pick in the presidential contest: Hillary Clinton, whom she worked with when Clinton served as New York’s senator. After Clinton lost her first presidential bid in 2008, it was Feinstein who brought her and Barack Obama together for a unity meeting.
“I know her very well,” Feinstein said. “And if you think experience matters — and I do — if you think knowing the world matters — and I do — she’s the only one.”
She said she had not worked much with Clinton’s opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, because the two had served on different committees in Washington during the nine years they have overlapped in the Senate.
“He, with me at least, has always lived in his own world,” she said. She noted that she’d developed relationships with Republican senators from working alongside them, but not with Sanders. “He’s not as easy to be friendly with.”
Feinstein’s current focus is a water bill she is trying to push through the Senate. It’s on its 26th draft, she said. The bill, meant to expand a water system that was developed in the 1960s, has been tied up in wrangling with the Republican-led House.
Democratic constituencies, like environmentalists, also have balked at Feinstein’s plan.
She said Thursday that there were more important things to consider than their opposition, including vast job losses in the Central Valley due to lack of water and the scores of communities suffering because water wells have dried up or become tainted as a result of the drought.
“I represent all of the state. Environmentalists are one part of it and I think I’ve done my share with environmental legislation and shown my stuff that way,” she said. “But this is different. This impacts everybody.”
“Do I just sit here and let water kill the economy of this state?” she asked. “Because it’s going to happen that way.”