I was tempted to nominate Dino Cortopassi, the Stockton businessman-farmer-philanthropist. He perhaps most clearly expressed the Black Bart spirit, putting forth a ballot initiative, Prop 53’s limit on revenue bonds of $2 billion or more, that shook up the political class and sparked a real debate on debt in the state. And he did it pretty much on his own.
But, in the end, Prop 53 narrowly lost. So he’s my first runner-up.
There were many candidates. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom won both his ballot measures, and made himself the clear frontrunner to be the next governor. His opponents are already finding that when they visit prominent Californians, Newsom has already been there first, and often locked up their support.
Tom Steyer, who I doubt will run for governor (he feels more like a Senator), used ballot measures to raise his profile. Those ads should lock up the award for Ruddiest Billionaire in California. And among other uber-rich candidates, hats off and pockets open for Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, who got the capital city with bigger problems to prioritize building him a downtown arena. And Sacramentans seem delighted now to be able to watch bad basketball in their own sports palace.
I also considered the Democratic legislative leaders – Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León – as writers of important legislation and of the letter of the year, in response to Trump’s Electoral College victory, raising the question of whether California still belongs in this country.
The answer is we do, but we’re going to have to fight for it.
And so my nomination for the Black Bart award goes to the fighter we elected this year: U.S. Senator-elect Kamala Harris.
In the Senate, she’ll have to do more than live up her promises to fight for us; she’ll have to become a Jedi Knight of legislative combat, with martial arts training in Trump-stopping jujitsu.
There are reasons to be optimistic. She moved quickly and decisively to clear the field of strong candidates. She crushed Loretta Sanchez, who was thought to pose a challenge. And she dealt perhaps a mortal blow to the top two process, which was exposed as not producing moderation or real debate in an often boring race.
And she became the first California politician of her generation to punch a hole in the Wall of the Aged — Brown, Boxer, Feinstein, Pelosi — that has ruled us for far too long.
Let’s hope that soon we’ll see the arrival of many of her contemporaries, and that they’ll eschew caution and embrace new ideas and strategies.