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Gretchen's List: April 2023
Good news: my book is finished! (Or, rather, I am finished with it.) This accomplishment means that I have time to write literally anything else, including these emails. Lucky for us all, then.
As we gear up for the 2024 cycle, I think we have many opportunities to consider the next generation of Democratic leadership. To this aim, I bring you: the Retirement Issue. (I didn’t realize that I was writing about so many actual and likely retirements until I was done, but here we are.) Read on to see where I’m focusing in this shifting landscape.
In that spirit, I hope those of you in San Francisco will join me tomorrow evening for a meet-and-greet with state Senator Scott Wiener, who is forming his exploratory committee to run for the congressional seat when Speaker Emerita Pelosi retires. You do not need to contribute to join! Just come meet Scott and learn about this race. Email me or register here if you’re interested.
P.S. I have been spending any of my non-writing time the last few months prioritizing the Abortion Bridge Collaborative Fund, which I started with my Women Donors Network collaborators last summer in response to the Dobbs decision. This work as has been some of the most exciting philanthropy I’ve engaged with: movement-led, rapid-response work to fill the gaps in the current funding ecosystem. If you’re interested in learning more, or you’re just confused about the recent court decisions on medication abortion and want some clarity, please join our upcoming donor briefing next Tuesday.
April Question: Is Dianne Feinstein going to retire?
I don’t know. If she can’t get back to Washington, DC to rejoin the work of the judiciary committee then, yes, she must.
I have not been especially eager to have Feinstein retire. I would like California to have a robust, competitive primary for an open senate seat without an appointment. But that is feeling like an untenable possibility, and the work of the judiciary committee cannot be delayed.
The inevitable follow-up question: Who will Gavin appoint?
Not Adam Schiff, despite literally everyone on Twitter thinking that that’s what will happen. Gavin has promised that he’ll appoint a woman of color, and I assume it will either be Congresswoman Barbara Lee or Secretary of State Shirley Weber (probably the former). I wish that he could appoint former Senator Barbara Boxer as a true placeholder — someone who knows the Senate, could conceivably accomplish something in eighteen months, and has absolutely no interested in running for a full term so that we could continue with our open primary — but the Governor has made a promise, and he needs to (and will) keep it. If it is Barbara Lee, she is a respected member of Congress, and would be a champion for California in the Senate for as long as she holds that seat.
Political Retirements 101
The Feinstein example really illustrates why we shouldn’t be afraid of retirements. Many times party leaders, reporters, and Very Online People consider a wave of retirements to be a reflection of a party’s poor prospects in the upcoming election. Retirements do present a challenge: incumbents are usually easier to defend than open seats are to win. But the Democratic senators are old. Some of them are really, really old. We should welcome the opportunity to usher in a new generation of leadership, and retirements can be a reflection of a deep bench of candidates who are ready to win and govern.
Also, this senate class was last up for election in 2018 — the Year of the Trump Midterms. None of them were going to leave their seats then when we were working to win back majorities and hold TFG accountable.
Senator Debbie Stabenow has already announced her retirement in Michigan, and Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin has largely cleared the Democratic field to succeed her. (Elissa will be in San Francisco this weekend; join us.)
Here’s who else might retire:
Ben Cardin of Maryland (age on Election Day: 81 years old). Keep an eye on Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks to run to replace him. (Congressman David Trone will also probably run. Congressman Jamie Raskin probably won’t, but his decision here will impact the shape of the race.) I’m slightly worried if former Republican Governor Larry Hogan throws his hat in the race, but have no idea how likely that is.
Tom Carper of Delaware (age on Election Day: 77 years old). Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (who I’m hosting in San Francisco in May; please join us!) is the clear choice to succeed here; and state Senator Sarah McBride is my favorite to then move into Lisa’s congressional seat.
Angus King of Maine (age on Election Day: 80 years old). Ok, I admittedly know the least about the prospects in Maine after The Race That Shall Not Be Named of 2020 (and also I don’t think King will actually retire) so I don’t want to speculate too much here, but I’d keep an eye on Congressman Jared Golden and Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.
Bernie Sanders of Vermont (age on Election Day: 83 years old). Just kidding, Bernie Sanders will stay in that seat forever. Congresswoman Becca Balint, though, would be his most likely replacement when he does retire.
Just on this list, we have strong, qualified Senate prospects including two Black women (Alsobrooks and Blunt Rochester; reminder: there are no Black women in the Senate!), one gay woman (Balint), and the potential for our first trans Congresswoman (McBride). This outlook is why we shouldn’t stress out about retirements. These are good candidates. They will energize our voters; they will be exciting for the future of the Democratic party — probably more than the incumbents they are likely to replace! The idea of holding on to our incumbents for too long is what took us to where California is now. Our 2024 mantra should be to embrace retirements, embrace turnover, and look towards the future.
Plus, the ambassadorship to Italy is still open, and embassies are every senator’s favorite retirement residence. Who’s gonna take it?
Thursday, April 20th at 6pm. I am co-hosting a meet-and-greet reception with state Senator Scott Wiener. Should our beloved Congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi, decide to not run for re-election, Scott would be a dynamic and effective representative for San Francisco in Congress. RSVP here to join this free reception to meet Scott and learn about his exploratory committee.
Sunday, April 23rd at 5pm. Please join me and Electing Women Bay Area in support of Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, who has effectively cleared the Democratic field in the race to replace Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. It’s of utmost importance that Democrats hold this swing-state seat. Elissa is an extremely impressive candidate, with deep national security credentials and true understanding of herself as a public servant. RSVP here to attend the reception (5pm), and here to join us for dinner (6:30pm).
Friday, May 12th at 12pm. Serving on the board of Emerge America for the last three years has been a true honor, and I am so excited about the work we’re doing and the bench of Democratic women that we have been building. I’d love to have you join my table for our 2023 annual Defenders of Democracy Luncheon. We’ll be joined by incredible Emerge alumnae from across the country (including Kentucky state representative Colonel Pam Stevenson, one of the very few candidates I’ve seen speak recently who has moved me to tears). I know you’ll leave inspired — watch the reel from last year’s event to see what you can expect. You can buy a ticket here, or just email me if you’d like to join as my guest.
Sunday, May 21 at 5pm. Please join me and three of my favorite members of Congress: Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, and Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, for an outdoor reception in San Francisco. Please join us to see why I am so grateful to have all three of these women in Washington — I know you’ll be as impressed by them as I continually am. RSVP and contribute here.
Sunday, June 4. Please save the date for an upcoming reception and dinner with Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. Details to come next month!
Donor, sociologist, researcher. Board member at WDN Action and Emerge America, and steering committee member at Electing Women Bay Area -- but all content here is mine alone and not on behalf of any organization. My goals are to help others find their networks and feel more comfortable and informed participating in the political giving space.
Currently reading: Untold Power: The Fascinating Rise and Complex Legacy of First Lady Edith Wilson by Rebecca Boggs Roberts.
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