Thursday, August 14, 2008

Feinstein takes jab at own party on water politics

SACRAMENTO — A couple blocks away from her potential next job site — the state Capitol — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday betrayed little about whether she intends to run for governor in 2010.

But after an address to regional officials at the downtown convention center here, she did take a swipe at her own party for blocking a $9.3 billion bond measure that she called critical to averting a major water crisis.

"I'm frustrated," the California Democrat from San Francisco said of her party's opposition to the measure, which must get a two-thirds vote in the Legislature if it is to make it to the November ballot. "I hope they will not (block a vote on it)."

The Legislature has until midnight Saturday to approve measures for the ballot, but partisan differences are likely to prove difficult to overcome. Democrats say the measure relies too heavily on water storage, or dams, and doesn't do enough to beef up conservation efforts.

Feinstein said she couldn't understand why conservation and water storage couldn't go hand in hand.

"It just seems that the issue becomes one of ideological purity rather than practical solutions," Feinstein said. "We need to move. And I don't think saying an environmental bond issue hasn't been spent is the answer. That should be spent. There's no question about it. But it doesn't do what we need to do."

State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, has insisted that the Advertisementwater bond approved by voters in 2006 needs to be spent before considering a new bond. His office did not reply to Feinstein's comments.

The issue has been complicated since Feinstein joined with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in promoting the $9.3 billion bond, backed largely by Republicans. (Feinstein and Schwarzenegger co-wrote an op-ed piece pushing the plan that appeared Sunday in MediaNews papers.)

But Feinstein said partisan politics should be put on hold in dealing with the state's growing water problems.

"We have to deal with an infrastructure that doesn't meet Californian's needs," she said. "I have never seen (California) in this condition, with the dryness, the fires, the deteriorating snowpack. The reservoirs are low. It's (showing) every overt danger signal that our water infrastructure is inadequate.

"Six months ago, the governor asked if I'd sit down with political leaders in both parties and I did," she added. "We left the meeting believing in two weeks they would come together on a bipartisan plan. They didn't."

Feinstein, who was re-elected in 2006 to her third six-year term, inserted herself into the raging politics of water just as speculation was heating up that she is considering a run for governor in 2010.

She declined to douse or fan the speculation Tuesday when asked whether she would run, saying only, "I'm a United States senator and that's what I'm doing and that's what I enjoy doing right now. So, that's that. My intention is to run for re-election in the Senate (in 2012). That's where it is right now."

The most popular statewide politician in the state, Feinstein can only be aided by the speculation — even if it doesn't amount to a run — said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College.

"It's in her interest to keep the speculation going," he said. "People will pay attention to her if they think she'll be the governor. This (water) issue reinforces that she's not just a figure of Washington. It's an issue that's very important to California and shows she's thinking about the state's future."

A recent private poll showed Feinstein would command the field of Democrats, which already includes Attorney General (and former governor) Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, while Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former gubernatorial candidate Steve Westly have also shown an interest.

Still, some remain skeptical that she'll run. She'll be 77 in 2010, and she'd be leaving behind all the influence that she's established in the Senate as a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and as chairwoman of the Rules Committee.

A former mayor of San Francisco, Feinstein ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1990, before winning election to the Senate in 1992 and re-elected in 1994, 2000 and 2006.

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