Senator Dianne Feinstein 1933-2023

Senator Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior representative in the nation’s upper legislative house, has died. She was 90.
A Democrat, she was the oldest member of the Senate and, having been elected in 1992, the longest serving woman to ever serve in the chamber. Her 31 years in office also made her the longest-serving senator from California in the state’s 173-year history.
Born in San Francisco in 1933 and a 1955 Stanford graduate, Dianne Emiel Goldman Berman Feinstein’s rise as a political leader took place in the city of her birth. She was first elected to the San Francisco City Council in 1969. San Francisco is a consolidated city-county, the only such entity in California, with the city limits of San Francisco coterminous with the San Francisco County border. Its mayor is also the county’s chief executive, and the city council doubles as the county board of supervisors.She ran unsuccessfully for mayor against the incumbent, Joseph Alioto, in 1971. In 1975, she ran again when Alioto opted out of seeking a third term for mayor. She finished in third, narrowly losing to second place finisher, Supervisor John Baragelata, who lost in the run-off against State Senator George Moscone.
She was yet a councilwoman and the president of the board of supervisors in 1978, when Mayor Moscone and Supervisor/Councilman Harvey Milk were assassinated by Dan White, himself a former supervisor/councilman. Feinstein barely avoided being killed by White herself, coming into San Francisco City Hall just moments after the shooting and White had left. She was the first to come upon Milk’s lifeless body. She reached to feel for his pulse, encountering a bullet hole near his wrist. Shortly thereafter, she became a national figure as she was seen in television news reports announcing the murders. A week later, she was selected by her board/council colleagues to replace Moscone.
Feinstein was elected mayor in 1979. In 1983, she outlasted a recall attempt and then was reelected mayor, serving in that capacity until 1988. She was prevented from seeking reelection in 1987 because of term limits.
Two years later, in the November 1990 election, she vied, as the Democratic nominee, for California governor against the Republican standard bearer, incumbent U.S. Senator Pete Wilson. Wilson prevailed in that contest with 3,791,904 or 49.3 percent of the votes cast to Feinstein’s 3,525,197 or 45.8 percent. Two years later, Feinstein ran in a specially-called election to complete Wilson’s term as Senator when he was elected governor. In that contest, she defeated Republican John Seymour, whom Wilson had appointed to the senatorial position he had vacated to succeed him on an interim basis. Feinstein handily won that race with 5,853,651 votes or 54.3 percent to Seymour’s 4,093,501 voter endorsements or 38.0 percent.
Also elected to the Senate from California that year was Barbara Boxer. This made California the first state in the nation to be represented by two women senators simultaneously. Feinstein was sworn in first, making her the senior senator from California the entire time she was in the U.S. upper legislative house. Feinstein was reelected in 1994, 2000, 2006, 2012 and 2018.
Relatively early in her tenure as U.S. Senator, Feinstein sponsored legislation of tremendous impact to San Bernardino County, that being the California Desert Protection Act of 1994. The act, an earlier version of which had been proposed by California Senator Alan Cranston but had not gotten sufficient traction or support, established three separate national park systems in the Mojave Desert: Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and Mojave National Preserve.
In a way that Cranston had earlier failed to effectuate, Feinstein was able to induce Congress to make a finding that that federally owned desert lands of Southern California constitute an extraordinarily and inestimably valuable public wildland resource for current and future generations and that they embodied unique scenic, historical, archeological, environmental, ecological, wildlife, cultural, scientific, educational and recreational assets that were being threatened by adverse pressures, including overdevelopment and destruction. In its finding, Congress declared it to be national policy that that appropriate public lands in the California desert had to be included within the National Park System and the National Wilderness Preservation System in order to preserve them.
Feinstein further played a key role in protecting the Mojave Desert, using the California Desert Protection Act and other means and resolutions to hold off attempts by business entities in California to commandeer control over and tap into the East Mojave Desert’s aquifer and convey massive amounts of the water it contains westward to communities located closer to California’s coast. Those designs on San Bernardino County’s water have not abated, but throughout her time in the Senate, the San Bernardino County-to-Orange County water importation plan has not been actuated.
On the occasion of a 2019 celebration at the Mojave Desert Land Trust of the 25th anniversary celebration of the California Desert Protection Act, Feinstein wrote: “When I think of the California desert, I think of magnificent landscapes and mountain vistas. I think of beautiful species like bighorn sheep, mule deer and desert tortoises. I think of unique vegetation like the beautiful wildflower blooms and iconic Joshua trees. And I think of the long history of local Native American tribes. The California desert is a true American treasure. Our efforts over the past 25 years have resulted in the largest areas of public lands protected in the lower 48 states – that is something truly to celebrate.”
Feinstein supported conservation groups in successfully petitioning President Obama to designate Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, Castle Mountains National Monuments using the Antiquities Act in February 2016.
In 2019, she co-sponsored the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act which designated 375,500 acres of wilderness and more than 70 miles of wild and scenic rivers, and added 43,000 acres to Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks.
In 2007, while the Democrats were in control of the Senate, Feinstein became the chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, the first woman to hold that post. In 2009, she acceded to chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, again the first woman to hold that position. Also in 2009, she was named chairwoman of the Senate Narcotics Caucus.
Governor Gavin Newsom, speaking of Feinstein in the present tense after her passing, said he considered Feinstein to be “a role model not only for me but to my wife and daughters for what a powerful, effective leader looks like. There is simply nobody who possessed the strength, gravitas, and fierceness of Dianne Feinstein.”
The Mojave Desert Land Trust, an environmental group committed to the preservation of the Mojave Desert, offered this statement, “Among the environmental achievements in Senator Feinstein’s long career was enshrining in law greater protections for the most well-known public lands in the California desert. Building on the foundational work of Senator Cranston and conservationists, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the historic California Desert Protection Act that was signed into law in 1994. The legislation created almost 9.2 million acres of public lands, establishing Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks, Mojave National Preserve and 69 wilderness areas over 3,570,000 acres.”
The Environmental Working Group, which advocates for environmental safety, said of Feinstein, “Environmental Working Group is saddened to learn of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s death. Her remarkable and historic three-decade-long tenure in the Senate was a testament to her dedication to public service and the people of California. Senator Feinstein was a tireless advocate for consumers, including the risks posed by dangerous chemicals in consumer products. Thanks to her, Congress acted to keep toxic chemicals out of toys and modernized our cosmetics laws to give the Food and Drug Administration long-needed oversight powers. Environmental Working Group will always be grateful for her efforts to keep us safe. Our thoughts and condolences go out to her family during this difficult time.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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