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‘Senator Feinstein was our champion’‘Senator Feinstein was our champion’

California farm groups mourn the fifth-term U.S. lawmaker’s passing.

Tim Hearden

October 2, 2023

4 Min Read
Sen. Dianne Feinstein with ag representatives
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., meets with farm group representatives. Ag organizations mourned the passing of Feinstein on Sept. 28.Western Growers

The passing of fifth-term U.S. Sen., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Sept. 28 elicited warm tributes from California farm group leaders, who called the trailblazing moderate Democrat a fearless champion for agriculture.

California Farm Bureau president Jamie Johansson credited Feinstein for tackling issues from forest stewardship in the Sierra Nevada to helping farm communities in the Central Valley.

“Her willingness to be a bipartisan, rational voice in seeking real solutions knew no bounds, as she tackled issues from forest stewardship in the Sierra Nevada to helping farm communities in the Central Valley,” Johansson said. “Sen. Feinstein was a steadfast supporter of the Golden State’s critical agricultural sector and her unwavering faith in the people of California was her greatest quality.

“Those of us in California agriculture will miss her leadership and friendship,” he said. “We offer our deepest condolences to her family.”

Feinstein’s public service will be remembered fondly by both urban and rural Californians, said Dave Puglia, Western Growers’ president and chief executive officer.

“For those striving to protect and strengthen California’s farms and the communities connected to agriculture, Senator Feinstein was our champion,” Puglia said. “She leaned into seemingly intractable issues, especially water supply and immigration, to bring diverse interests together.

“No one ever doubted her mastery of the details or her drive to reach pragmatic compromises that would break through the ideological logjams that are too common in our politics today,” he said.

‘A great loss'

Feinstein’s chief of staff, James Sauls, announced early Sept. 29 that the senator had died in her home in Washington, D.C., the previous night. She was 90.

“Her passing is a great loss for so many, from those who loved and cared for her to the people of California that she dedicated her life to serving,” Sauls said.

“Senator Feinstein never backed away from a fight for what was just and right,” he said. “At the same time, she was always willing to work with anyone, even those she disagreed with, if it meant bettering the lives of Californians or the betterment of our nation.”

With news of her passing, many of her former colleagues lauded Feinstein’s leadership, including Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., a senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. Costa called Feinstein a patriot an “incredible champion” for the Golden State.

“As California’s longest-serving and first female senator, she was a fighter and a trailblazer for women across California and the nation,” Costa said. “We worked together to improve California’s water infrastructure, expand access to healthcare, and modernize our transportation systems. She made a difference every day during her long tenure in public service.

“It’s a sad day for the people of California and for our nation,” the congressman said. “Dianne was my friend and a mentor to me for over 33 years, I will miss her. May she rest in peace - there is no one like Dianne."

Historic senator

A former San Francisco supervisor and mayor who led the city after the assassination of then-Mayor George Moscone, Feinstein was first elected senator in 1992 in the Year of the Woman, joining California’s Barbara Boxer, Washington’s Patty Murray and Illinois’ Carol Moseley-Braun as freshman Democrats in the upper chamber.

Feinstein was one of California's first two female senators (along with Boxer) and was the upper chamber's longest-serving female. As Politico notes, she became one of the most powerful politicians in the Capitol, chairing the Intelligence Committee and sparring with the Obama administration over a classified report on the CIA’s counterterrorism interrogation program.

Her current term was to run through 2024, and she said she wouldn’t seek another. With a primary contest underway, Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he would pick an interim replacement, and Politico reported Oct. 1 that he has settled on EMILY's List President Laphonza Butler.

“There are few women who can be called senator, chairman, mayor, wife, mom and grandmother,” Sauls said of Feinstein. “She left a legacy that is undeniable and extraordinary. There is much to say about who she was and what she did, but for now, we are going to grieve the passing of our beloved boss, mentor and friend.”

A friend of ag

Through the decades, Feinstein worked closely with agriculture, winning some of the state Farm Bureau’s earliest endorsements for her re-election campaigns. In the 2012 race, for instance, the CFB endorsed her 18 months before the election.

Among ag-related issues, Feinstein was an advocate for a guestworker program in agriculture, pushed for more flexibility in sending water south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and sponsored legislation to fix Central Valley canals impeded by subsidence.

One of her early bipartisan successes was the 1998 Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act, which she cosponsored with then-Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif. The bill authorized a citizen-led logging plan for the northern Sierra Nevada.

Her work with ag continued throughout her tenure. In September, she teamed with Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., and others to propose the Agricultural Emergency Relief Act, which would create a permanent agency within the USDA to provide relief to farmers who lost crops because of natural disasters.

“Senator Feinstein’s dedication to sound public policy will continue to serve the people of California agriculture for many years to come,” Puglia said. “The members and staff of Western Growers send our condolences to her family, friends and staff. She will be deeply missed.”

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