California’s political class, predictably, is having the wrong conversation again. We’re talking about who should replace Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate. Instead, we should be talking about what should replace Boxer.

Boxer had strengths – as a strong, progressive voice that represented her state and as a better fighter for dollars than her reputation would suggest. But she wasn’t much of a presence in the state and its public conversation, particularly inland where some of California’s biggest opportunities and challenges are located. And she never achieved the outsized influence in the Senate that California needs from its senators, given just how underrepresented the 38 million of us are in that chamber.

So let’s answer this question first: what do we need from a successor? Here are four qualities I’d love to have in a senator.

  1. Someone who could take over from Harry Reid. The U.S. Senate is an anti-democratic conspiracy against California, so we can’t afford to have our senators be quiet backbenchers. We need to send people who would step over their grandmothers to gain power and influence. That means that people who have won leadership posts in other legislative bodies – like former Assembly Speakers Antonio Villaraigosa, Karen Bass, John Perez, Bob Hertzberg, or, on the Republican side, Curt Pringle – could make sense.
  2. Someone who likes the taste of bacon. California got a nice boost from the stimulus, but we still badly trail other states in terms of the money we get back from the feds. That’s not fair—we lead the country in poverty, and our progressive politics mean that we should be feeding at the public trough before states with anti-government politics. So be wary of any Senate candidate who touts herself as a reformer or a believer in clean politics; we need senators willing to get their hands dirty, to fight and cheat to bring home the pork. Mayors and county supervisors know the virtues about dirty hands, which should put names like San Francisco’s Ed Lee, San Diego’s former mayor Jerry Sanders, former Sacramento mayor Heather Fargo, and former Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge, a longtime leader among municipal governments.
  3. Someone who loves trade and technology. Boxer’s skeptical notes on trade didn’t serve California. This state is profoundly a global crossroads, and our deep interest in freer trade is good for everyone (even labor types who don’t realize it). And we need someone who knows technology well enough to get into the details – and protect California and the country from misguided policy. So someone should be pushing Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Craig Newmark of Craigslist fame, and Peter Thiel to consider public service in the Senate.
  4. Someone who is intimately familiar with inland California. The coastal cities, particularly Los Angeles, have deep problems, too. But the fastest way to make California’s future brighter faster is to give big boosts to the Central Valley and the Inland Empire. Their potential is huge. It should be a priority to more than double the percentage of people there who have college degrees, to build new infrastructure, and to loosen regulations there to spark new ventures and growth. Doing all of that will require a Senator attuned to those parts of the state.

All right, you ask: if that is your what, then is there anyone who matches all 4 things? I had a hard time coming up with total fits among the names that are out there (Secretary of State Alex Padilla came closest), but my search produced three names who aren’t on anyone’s radar. 1. Dean Florez, the former state Senate Majority Leader from the San Joaquin Valley, now working on education and technology. 2. My friend Lenny Mendonca, who has Central Valley roots, lives and works in the Silicon Valley (both at global level, with McKinsey, and locally, with the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company), and has been a leader and herder of cats in the state’s political reform movement. 3. And the former Modesto Mayor Carol Whiteside, who has a deep resume that includes everything from emerging technology to Salton Sea restoration; she’s now a partner at California Strategies.

Anyway, before you figure out your who, figure out your what.