California Democrats

From top left, clockwise: Jerry Brown, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Antonio Villaraigosa, Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris are pictured in this composite. | Getty


By ALEXANDER BURNS | 7/20/14 5:29 PM EDT – Updated: 7/21/14 6:37 AM EDT

LOS ANGELES — The rumblings are early but unmistakable: A political earthquake is — finally — headed to California.

For decades now, Democrats and Republicans here have experienced statewide politics as an interminable waiting game, thanks to a gang of 70- and 80-somethings from the Bay Area who have dominated government for a generation.

In a state famed for its youth and vitality, home to Hollywood and the Silicon Valley gospel of economic “disruption,” boasting an ultra-diverse population that presaged the country’s larger ethnic transformation — California’s leadership looks much the same as it did in the late 20th century.

Rising stars in both parties have come and gone, but the state’s chief power players have remained the same: Jerry Brown, California’s 76-year-old governor, is running for reelection this year to a post he first won in 1974. The two senators — Barbara Boxer, 73, and Dianne Feinstein, 81 — have held their jobs since the early 1990s.

The most prominent member of the congressional delegation, 74-year-old House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, started out as chairwoman of the California Democratic Party when Ronald Reagan was president. The current party chairman, 81-year-old John Burton, is a former congressman who first went to Washington in the 1974 post-Watergate revolution.

But at long last, change is afoot in the Golden State.

Democrats here — along with a few tenacious Republicans — say there’s a palpable sense that a changing-of-the-guard moment is approaching. It has already begun in some places, with the retirements of several long-tenured federal lawmakers and the defeat of 16-term Democratic Rep. Pete Stark in a 2012 primary.

For the most part, members of the under-50 crowd in California politics aren’t taking shots at their elders. On the contrary, they praise them for their steady leadership of an often-troubled state even as they brace for a shakeup that may be as few as two years away.

“We’ve had great leadership in Washington and also in Sacramento lately. But look to the next eight, 10 years — it’s going to be a generational shift. The Gen X-ers are going to take over in California,” said Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, a 43-year-old Democrat.

Longtime Democratic consultant Garry South called it “ironic” that in a state “viewed as a hip trendsetter for the rest of the nation, we’ve got this cast of septuagenarians and octogenarians.”

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