Senior Democrats clogging up the California political pipeline 

The new congressional, legislative and Board of Equalization districts drawn by an independent commission made a long-evident political reality official: California, once a Republican bastion, is now solidly, even overwhelmingly, Democratic.

Democrats will control the Legislature — with two-thirds majorities in reach — and the congressional delegation. And while it may not be impossible for a Republican to win statewide office it’s at best unlikely.

California’s most important political contests could be in the primary elections that choose Democratic Party nominees, which will be governed by the new “top-two” system.

All candidates will appear on one ballot. The top two vote-getters will face each other in the general election. It could mean two from the same party in some contests for the Legislature or Congress, and perhaps a minor statewide office.

Regardless, it will empower the growing ranks of independent voters. And it may compel candidates to make wider appeals, rather than concentrating on ideological true believers.

Another potent factor in the future is that the top ranks of Democratic politicians are now filled with — to put it bluntly — the elderly.

The state’s 73-year-old governor, Jerry Brown, is the most obvious example of that, but other septuagenarians abound, such as Sens. Dianne Feinstein (78) and Barbara Boxer (70), Treasurer Bill Lockyer (70) and the state Democratic chairman, John Burton (also 78).

Boxer just won a new six-year term. Feinstein says she’s running again in 2012. Brown hints that he, too, will seek another term in 2014, but that may depend on how the rest of his so-far-rocky first (or is it third?) term plays out.

The state’s younger Democratic politicians are beginning to chafe, wondering whether they’ll grow old waiting.

That may have been the subliminal message of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s speech in which he indirectly, but clearly, tweaked Brown for a lack of boldness.

Villaraigosa, who is 58, will be termed out as mayor in 2013 and almost certainly would run for governor in 2014 — or for the Senate in 2012 were Feinstein to bow out. Other Democrats waiting in the wings for major statewide office include Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (43), Attorney General Kamala Harris (46), Controller John Chiang (49) and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (49).

The next generation of top statewide political figures will probably come from their ranks. But how soon? That’s the big question.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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