Who will emerge as California’s most important Democratic
politicians over the next generation? I don’t know. But I’d be willing to bet
good money that Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris are not the answers to that

A Los
Angeles Times story
this weekend suggested the opposite: that Newsom and
Harris are leading a new generation of California politicians who will take
over from the trio of septuagenarians (people in their 70s)  – Jerry Brown, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara
Boxer – who preside over the state’s hardest political offices.

It isn’t hard to divine why such a
story was written. Each was just elected to statewide office. Both Newsom and
Harris are attractive and charismatic. Each is great at grabbing attention.
Both can lay claim to some policy innovations during their tenure as San
Francisco elected officials.

So what’s the problem? It’s not
merely that they are from San Francisco, a political island of loopy leftiness
in a state that is more center-left. Or that they both under-performed the rest
of the Democratic ticket in last year’s elections in a Democratic year. (The
two drew lower percentages of the vote than all other Democratic statewide
winners in November, with Harris barely holding off her GOP opponent, Steve

No, the larger problem is neither
has shown the capacity or courage to upend the tired, out-of-ideas Democratic

Goodness knows, that establishment
needs to be kicked to the curb. Whatever personal admiration one might have for
Brown, Feinstein and Boxer and their service to the state, none of them has
offered the kind of future-oriented vision and transformational policy the
state so desperately needs. And for all its power and ability to win elections,
the Democratic establishment has failed to tackle California’s dysfunctional
system – and thus failed to deliver progress in the state. Here’s the question
our two incumbent senators, in particular, should be asked: Is there any
question that California is worse off now than when you first started
representing it in the Senate 19 years ago?

What’s most interesting about the
Democratic stamina is that it has proven so sturdy even though it is manifestly
so weak. Yes, leading Democratic politicians have name ID – the crucial
commodity in California elections – but they are not broadly popular. In fact,
it’s hard to find Californians who can tell you what they’ve done. So Feinstein
and Boxer (and Brown, assuming he stays on his current path until 2014) should
offer tempting, relatively soft targets for smart, ambitious Democrats with
something to say.

The question is: who are those
game-changing Democrats? They probably aren’t Newsom and Harris, who are at
pains to talk about how they’re working with the old guard. No, the Democratic
politicians who will define California’s future are more likely to be young
leaders – probably Latino or Asian, probably from Southern or inland California
– who come from the middle or working class and are either very new to
politics, or outsiders to it. As such, they should not be unafraid to challenge
their party’s establishment.