(Editor’s Note: Dianne Feinstein won the Democratic primary nomination in June and is on the ballot in November attempting to win her sixth term in the U.S. Senate. Born in San Francisco, Sen. Feinstein graduated from Stanford University in 1955 with a Bachelor of Arts in history. She was first elected to public office as a member of S.F. Board of Supervisors in 1962 and has served in an elected position ever since.)
Your career has included the elected positions of San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Mayor of San Francisco and now five terms as U.S. Senator. Looking back at your career in public office, have you achieved success where you expected failure, or have you faced failure where you anticipated success? What lessons have you learned from these experiences?
Perhaps my biggest challenge was being a woman in politics. My first campaign was in college where I ran for student body vice president. After I became the first woman President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, I ran for mayor twice. I lost both times and I thought I couldn’t win a citywide campaign, but I won in 1979. In 1992 I became the first woman elected Senator of California. Now in the Senate, I became the first woman member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the first woman to be ranking member of the Committee, and I was the first woman to chair the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. And what I learned in all these campaigns is regardless of the odds, you have to reach out to all communities to understand everyone’s concerns and aspirations. Having these conversations helps me work with anyone and represent everyone to find solutions to our most difficult problems.
In March, the WG Board of Directors voted unanimously to endorse you in your 2018 reelection bid. What does this endorsement mean to you?
It is a great honor to have the support of the Western Growers. The agricultural community feeds our nation and the world and is essential to our economic prosperity. I have always appreciated the wonderful relationship my staff and I have had with farmers and agricultural leaders, and California’s hardworking agricultural workforce. We have worked together to achieve a drought relief bill, and a farm bill which made sure that California received its fair share, and we are fighting side by side to bring undocumented farmworkers out of the shadows. I very much look forward to continuing to work together in the future.
In our endorsement announcement, Tom Nassif stated that during your tenure in office, you have “demonstrated a willingness to approach the concerns of California agriculture with pragmatism and practicality…” You have proven that as a “city girl,” you can still represent your rural constituents. Why have you spent so much of your political capital in recent years to support the agriculture industry?
With over 80,000 farms, California is the top agricultural producing state in the nation with nearly half of America’s fruits, vegetables, nuts, and over 80 percent of domestically-grown flowers coming from our state. I believe that as Senator it is my duty to do all that I can to ensure that California’s food and agriculture industries continue to grow, create jobs and succeed. Which is why during negotiations for the 2014 Farm Bill I fought to include provisions essential to our state’s farmers, including bringing millions of federal dollars to our state for specialty crop research and sponsoring previsions to ensure that the Forest Service is prepared to quickly respond to fires that threaten our communities and crops.
In our endorsement announcement, Nassif continued on to say that on immigration reform and water, our two biggest issues, you have “stuck to the hard work of seeking positive, workable compromise in a harshly divided and partisan Congress.” As an example, in 2013, you diligently worked with the Gang of Eight to negotiate S. 744, the immigration bill that passed the Senate but was never taken up in the House. And last year, you reached across the aisle in good faith to work with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to successfully pass the Water Infrastructure for Improvements to the Nation (WIIN) Act. Like many Americans, our members are frustrated that there are so few legislators willing to meet members of the other party halfway in order to get something productive done, especially on contentious issues like immigration and water. In the politically polarized environment that has consumed Washington, D.C., and even more so California, is there a viable political path for centrists and pragmatists to rebuild their ranks and get things done?
The people of California sent me to Washington to get things done. Most major pieces of legislation are accomplished on a bipartisan basis. So, unless one party is able to have control of the White House, House of Representative and 60 seats in the Senate, the only way for government to be effective for the people is to put partisanship aside and get things done. We would not have been able to pass a Drought Relief Bill, the 2013 Immigration Compromise, or even publish the Torture Report without cooperation from both Republicans and Democrats and I hope this election will prove that there is still a viable path for those of us who are committed to rolling up their sleeves and finding solutions to the problems facing our country.
Assuming you are successful in your reelection bid, what do you hope to accomplish during your next term in office? When do you expect to get real immigration reform for agriculture done?
One of my top priorities for the next Congress is expanding access to health care for millions of Americans by lowering the age of eligibility for Medicare to 55-years of age, mandating that Medicare negotiates for drug prices (which it currently does not), allowing the US Department of Health and Human Services to reject unreasonable premium increases and requiring 85 percent of all premium dollars to go to patients, instead of 80 percent. I am also dedicated to helping reduce homelessness, which has become a crisis here in California and across the West Coast. And as the agriculture community knows all too well the issue of immigration reform has real impactions for farms throughout California, with some 500,000 undocumented farmworkers in our state. Which is why I have partnered with the United Farm Workers to introduce the “Agricultural Worker Program Act” which would allow farmworkers to earn a “blue card” shielding them from deportation and eventually a green card which would put these handworkers on a pathway to citizenship.
What is your key message to California agriculture in the 2018 election? What one thought would you like to leave our members with regarding your reelection campaign for the U.S. Senate?
With my experience working with the agriculture community, I understand the challenges facing farmers and farmworkers in our state. For as long as I have been in the Senate I have made it my mission to support the agricultural community through farm bills, drought bills, immigration reform bills and by showing up and listening to leaders in your community. I am very proud of the strong working relationship I have built up with California’s agriculture community and I am committed to continuing that relationship in my next term.
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