Let me start out by saying that I am neither an expert on, nor a fan of, the California political system. I sense that the Jungle Primary system has given the political process to the rich and famous, which is a very California thing to do. Living in what might be the grassiest and rootiest of the grass roots states (Minnesota), having been born in the state with the most pernicious perfectly political process (New York) and living for years in Massachusetts, the mother of Democracy (once married to the father of democracy, Virginia), I look at California, and go, like so many non-Calis, “huh?”, more often than not.
Nonetheless, I’ll venture to express my thoughts on the political process of a governor appointing a Senator writ large, as a feature of our democratic process. This is a 20,000 foot view, and it is a multi-decadal view. This is what I think governors across the nation should eventually settle on, so that it becomes traditional, expected behavior.
In short, a Governor should appoint the person who meets the following two criteria:
1) The person should be expected to become an excellent Senator to represent the state in the democracy we live in, to uphold the oath, and to do the job; and
2) The person should be the best political choice for the Governor’s party.
In other words, it is the job of the Governor to fill in for the people and enact what democracy would have done anyway, if democracy was perfect. If the governor happens to be bogus (someone who rose to that position un-elected or turned out to be corrupt, for example) then this is obviously not going to work out too well no matter what happens. But we should always strive for the ideal in our politics, and the two conditions I state above represent that ideal. So we try to put governors in state houses who will do the best we can hope for.
Why not appoint an interim senator? That would keep the governor out of the political process and allow democracy to take its course, right? Well, no. Here are the reasons to not do that.
1) The role of the governor is to appoint a senator under certain conditions. You can’t take the governor out of that process without breaking that commitment. This is what governor are for. In other words, we don’t actually want to take the governor out of the decision in order to preserve the political process, because a governor appointing a senator IS the political process we agreed to, and we all were fully aware of this (right?) when we elected that governor.
2) It is unethical to force any qualified person to agree to not run for an office for which they are qualified. The presumption of an interim appointee not running for election to that office violates this basic right.
2b) In some cases, as is happening now in California, the joint idea of appointing a person to increase diversity in the Senate (eg a black woman) who is then being instructed to not run for election to that office, is absurd and an even more severe violation of that person’s rights. This might be the situation in California right now, so it may not be a general rule, but this would not be the first or last time for this issue to come up.
3) Appointment of an interim senator breaks the political contract with the people. We pick our leaders and representatives to be leaders and representatives, using the power of the ballot box. In most instances, we then continue to use the power of the ballot box to hold those individuals responsible. An interim senator is not bound by this usually -in-effect power of the people.
4) The Teddy Roosevelt Effect. Say an interim person is appointed, and turns out to be a G.O.A.T. The interim status of that person requires that the people do not get to elect the Best Senator Ever because of some dumb arrangement made prior.
5) It makes the Senate a joke. There are only 100 Senators, and each of us is represented by only two. But if you are in a state with an interim senator, then you are only represented by one-point-something senators, because a senator appointed for a short time can not act, yield power, make deals, and otherwise perform as a true senator. A place holder is merely a place holder.
I would recommend that Governor Newsom chose among those who have already declared their candidacy, and make that decision based on the criteria noted above, which can easily include issues of the person’s diversity*, experience, and the things they are already promising to do. Polls this early in a process are shades of future truth, but why not also look to see which candidates have more election-wise oomph. Taking all these things into consideration, it is the job of the governor, not merely the prerogative, to chose the best person. Choosing an interim senator is a bad idea.
There is an election coming up soon. The chosen senator would have a presumed advantage. The job of the governor is to appoint the best senator possible. If that gives an advantage over some of the other viable candidates, so be it.
Personally, I’d have a hard time choosing among several of the amazing individuals who have already indicated that they are running for this office. This is why I am not governor of California. In case you were wondering.
*A person does not have diversity but you know what I mean.