Monday, May 9, 2016




          The inevitable generational changing of California’s political guard is sure to continue next month, but don’t expect much of a shift in the party makeup of the state’s 53-member House delegation, where Democrats now dominate by a 39-14 margin.

          Change began to move quickly two years ago when patriarchs in both parties retired, including past chairmen of major committees like Democrat Henry Waxman in coastal Los Angeles County, Republican Buck McKeon of Santa Clarita and Democrat George Miller of Contra Costa County.

          This year’s departures will include Democrat Lois Capps of Santa Barbara County and Monterey County Democrat Sam Farr. All were in their 70s when they announced they were leaving.

          There will still be plenty of seniority in the delegation, though, both in age and years of service, which means even more changes are likely two, four and six years from now.

          A lot of the age and experience now resides in the San Francisco Bay area, home to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, 76, and fellow Democrats Jackie Speier, 66; Anna Eshoo, 73, and Zoe Lofgren, 68. San Jose Democrat Mike Honda, 72, faces his second straight tough reelection battle this year, his political survival very much in doubt.

          Over in the Central Valley, Fresno’s Democratic veteran Jim Costa, 64, faces off a second time against well-funded Republican farmer Johnny Tacherra, who led Costa on election night two years ago. Costa narrowly survived that year on the strength of late absentee and provisional votes. A strong GOP turnout for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the Fresno area could mean the end of Costa’s 38-year political career.

          Further south, a succession clash is brewing in Orange County, where former Assemblyman and ex-county Republican Chairman Scott Baugh this spring began raising money for a 2018 campaign to succeed his old “friend,” longtime Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, 68, who promptly issued a statement denying any plans to retire that soon.

          Of all these seats, the one with the best chance to change parties this year belongs to Capps, who took over for her late husband Walter in 1998. The early favorite here is Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, a Democrat, but nine candidates are running and the race for the two November runoff slots seems wide open.

          Two other seats being vacated this year belong to Democrats Loretta Sanchez of Orange County and Janice Hahn of San Pedro. Sanchez seeks the retiring Barbara Boxer’s U.S. Senate seat, while Hahn wants a slot on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, where her father Kenneth served 40 years. There will be no party change in either district, though; both are solidly Democratic.

          But there could be a party change in the Sacramento area’s 7th district, now represented by Democrat Ami Bera, an MD and the only Unitarian in Congress. Several Bera votes have angered left-leaning Democrats. If they desert him in November, Republican Sacramento County Sheriff Steve Jones could take this swing district.

          But the coastal district now represented by Farr looks safely Democratic, with Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Jimmy Panetta a heavy favorite. Panetta, 46, whose father represented the district many years before becoming Bill Clinton’s budget director and chief of staff, then CIA director and defense secretary for President Obama, staked his claim to the seat early and no other Democrat is seriously challenging.

          The upshot is that California’s congressional delegation will gain some youth this year, but could lose a bit of seniority. This won’t matter much unless Democrats somehow regain control of the House and give Pelosi a second term as Speaker.

          That looks unlikely, in large part because gerrymandering has made Republican dominance inevitable in much of the South, especially populous Texas.

          Still, the newcomers – almost all likely to be Democrats – from this year’s election and 2014 will be poised to give California renewed clout if and when Democrats ever regain control of Congress, something that’s improbable at least until 2022, when the next Census creates new political districts all across America.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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