A few months ago, I though Elizabeth Emken’s chance of unseating Dianne Feinstein in the Senate was about equal to the Giant’s chance of winning the World Series. I was not optimistic. Today, I believe that both are possible and, indeed, probable. I’ll leave the baseball talk to others, and I’ll focus on Elizabeth Emken. It’s not just that Elizabeth Emken is such a good candidate (which she is); it’s that Dianne Feinstein has refused to be any type of candidate at all (which is unsurprising given her embarrassing record).
Elizabeth Emken is impressive. She graduated from UCLA with dual degrees in Economics and Political Science, and spent time at Cambridge studying China and the Middle East. She worked for years at IBM running numbers and analyzing management in order to increase performance and decrease costs. Elizabeth understands how complex financial systems operate and she understands effective management technique.
Sixteen years ago, when her son was diagnosed with profound autism, Elizabeth left the private sector to work in Washington to help fund cost-effective, productive programs for those who are unable to care for themselves. I’m going to quote directly from Elizabeth’s website regarding her autism work, because it is a snapshot of her intelligence, her familiarity with Washington politics and procedures, and her no-nonsense approach to budget issues, even when federal funds have a direct impact on her own life:
Elizabeth is a fighter and a problem solver. She was “drafted” into a second career as an advocate for developmentally disabled children after her son, Alex, was diagnosed with autism. She served as Vice President for Government Relations at Autism Speaks, the Nation`s largest science and advocacy organization devoted to the public health emergency of autism.
Elizabeth coordinated advocacy for multiple pieces of federal legislation addressing autism, the Advancement in Pediatric Autism Research Act, the lead title of the Children`s Health Act of 2000, and the Combating Autism Act of 2006 which authorized nearly $1 billion over 5 years to combat autism through research, screening, early detection and early intervention.
A vital element of this accomplishment, Elizabeth led the charge to ensure transparency and accountability on how the NIH would spend autism research dollars. For the first time at the NIH, her efforts produced a portfolio analysis of autism spending that would have to withstand public scrutiny – a policy Elizabeth believes should apply throughout the entire government.
At Autism Speaks, Elizabeth launched a multi-state campaign to secure insurance coverage for autism-related services. 30 states have enacted autism insurance reform laws, saving participating states millions in taxpayer funds that would otherwise have been directed to state health care and special education services. This groundbreaking legislation, aimed at ending marketplace discrimination against individuals with autism, passed into law in California on October 9, 2011.
Elizabeth doesn’t just have intelligence, skills, and a strong record, she also has charisma. I was fortunate enough to hear her speak today at the Marin Republican Women Federated and I was blown away. She is a smooth, but not glib speaker, who engages almost fiercely with her audience. She is not a dilettante. She is a woman who believes passionately in a government that maximizes individual freedom, while efficiently providing necessary services in the most cost-effective way.
I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to see many good conservative candidates come and go in California. Why then do I think Elizabeth has a chance? Because this is a year like no other year. As in 2008, Republicans are fired up and want to vote. As in 2008, even if they cannot affect California’s electoral college votes, California Republicans want to make a difference in local elections. What makes 2012 different from — and better than — 2008 is the fact that Elizabeth is running against Dianne Feinstein, not Barbara Boxer.
I hold no brief for Boxer, but she is an energetic politician. She campaigned hard in 2008, in part because her opponent, Carly Fiorina, was a very visible candidate, with a large pocketbook. Boxer went up and down California, rallying her troops, and it’s the boots on the ground that will ultimately matter at the ballot box.
Dianne Feinstein, doesn’t have boots on the ground . . . or slippers . . . or delicate, expensive sandals. She is the invisible candidate. She has repeatedly refused to debate Emken. Feinstein takes her “no debate” stance so seriously, she won’t even talk to the press about debating Elizabeth.
Feinstein’s sudden shyness isn’t really surprising. Whatever energy Feinstein originally brought to Washington has long since dissipated. Having put in her 20 years, she seems to view serving as a Senator a giant boondoggle. She ignores her constituents, she ignores voters, she even ignores California itself, as she demonstrated when she failed to get any significant part of the $850,000,000 Jobs Bill earmarked for California. (By this, I’m not endorsing the stimulus. I’m only pointing out that, when there was money to be had, and when our state was — and is — hurting badly, Feinstein was supine.) Further, given that Feinstein is already 80, there’s reason to believe that she has no intention of serving out yet another six-year term. Instead, there’s a strong possibility she’ll retire early, letting Jerry Brown have his pick of California Progressives to fill her Senate seat.
In other words, Feinstein is running as the ultimate incumbent: she’s just assuming that her name on the ballot is enough to get her elected, and she’s probably hoping that an unelectable Progressive can hang onto her coattails to hold the same seat.
But this is 2012, and everything is different. Before this election, Feinstein’s name might have been enough to win. But there’s a dirty little secret in 2012, one that the media has kept under wraps: Californians don’t like Feinstein. The rolling California Business Roundtable/Pepperdine School of Public Policy polls have some interesting numbers. First, for months more than 65%, and often more than 70%, of Californians have thought that California is heading in the wrong direction. That attitude is bad for incumbents. Second, specifically with regard to Dianne Feinstein, voters don’t like her: she’s occasionally cracked the 50% mark, but she’s also spent a long time in the mid- to high-40% likability area. As with Obama, it’s bad news for an incumbent who cannot stay above 50%. An even more interesting number is the high percentage of undecideds polled: 20% of California voters are up for grabs.
Emken ended her speech by saying, “I’m a different kind of candidate. I’m a Mom; I work for a living. I understand what families are going through…. If you are mentally or physically unable to care for yourself, you have nothing to fear from me.” Emken, like Romney, is not a monster. Instead, she is an ordinary (albeit very talented) person who recognizes that California and the United States can be saved, and can still provide necessary support for the most helpless. She also understands, though, that this can only be done through greater efficiency, not greater profligacy. The current governmental approach, one the Feinstein embodies, works hard to kill the taxpayer geese who for so long have laid the golden government eggs. Those days are over. We need sound fiscal management, and Emken gets it.
If you’re a California voter, don’t let the fact that your Presidential vote is probably symbolic stop you from going to the polls. There are important issues (“Yes on Prop. 32!”) and candidates out there that need your support. Sending Elizabeth Emken, rather than Dianne Feinstein, to the United States Senate could be the most important thing you do on November 6.