For Napolitano, UC Could Be a Stepping Stone to California Politics

In the above video, UC President Janet Napolitano spoke with Scott Shafer on KQED NEWSROOM about her vision for the 10-campus system and responds to criticism of her record on immigration.

The University of California’s new president, Janet Napolitano, has an impressive career trajectory. Appointed by President Bill Clinton to be U.S. attorney in Arizona. Elected Arizona attorney general and governor (and re-elected). Secretary of Homeland Security. Napolitano was also reportedly on President Obama’s short list for the U.S. Supreme Court. And now, she’s the first woman to head one of the nation’s premier public universities.

Napolitano’s appointment stunned many inside and outside of the UC system. Not only was she the rare outsider chosen to lead UC, she did not even have a background in education.newsroom-115x65

Channeling Hillary Clinton, the first thing Napolitano did when she got here was embark on a listening tour of UC’s campuses. She has not exactly been met with open arms. Student protesters, angry at her role in deportations as Homeland Security Chief, called on her to resign — before she started. And some student governments passed resolutions of “no confidence.”

But Napolitano seems not to lack confidence in herself. And why should she? She has a steep learning curve to be sure, but her call this week for a tuition freeze and creation of a special $5 million fund to help undocumented students indicates a political acumen that should serve her well.

Which makes me wonder: Might Janet Napolitano have a future in California politics?

Let’s suppose she stays in the job at least a few years. Then what? She’s only 55 now. And she seems to have the public service bug. There are worse places from which to enter politics than California. And Napolitano has roots here. She graduated from Santa Clara University, the first woman to finish first in her class. And her brother lives in the East Bay, where he works at Sandia National Lab.

Consider the possibilities

In 2018, Dianne Feinstein will be 85 and may well not run for reelection (she’s currently the oldest member of the U.S. Senate, a distinction she apparently loathes). Of course others have their eyes on that seat — Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Attorney General Kamala Harris. One of them will likely run for governor. How odd would it be for Napolitano, assuming she’s done a good job at UC, to run for the Senate? Or governor?

Or what about this: Jerry Brown may get to fill another seat on the California Supreme Court. How about a fellow governor? He seems to like “non-judges” and unconventional choices (see former UC Berkeley Law Professor Goodwin Liu). How about Associate Justice Napolitano? (Reality check: There are currently no Latinos or African-Americans on the high court. He’ll surely address that with his next appointment, if he gets one.)

Or what about this scenario? Hillary Clinton doesn’t become president for some reason. Napolitano in 2020? She’d be 63 years old. Not a bad V.P. choice either. Come to think of it, Hillary could do worse than to pick her as a running mate — doubling down on gender, like Bill Clinton did in 1992 when he chose another young white Southerner as his running mate.

Of course I’m getting way ahead of myself here. My point though — UC could easily just be a landing place for an ambitious and accomplished public servant. She’ll have to build a lot of bridges in any case, starting with a Latino community very unhappy with her role overseeing deportations of undocumented immigrants as Homeland Security secretary.

But stranger things have happened. Like a body builder/action movie star becoming governor.

KQED’s Scott Shafer spoke with Janet Napolitano for KQED NEWSROOM, a weekly news magazine program on television, radio and online. Tune in to KQED Public Television 9 on Friday, Nov. 15, at 8 p.m. to see the full interview. Listen to a rebroadcast at KQED Public Radio 88.5 FM on Sunday, Nov. 17, at 6 p.m. Watch the full program at KQED.org/newsroom after 8:30 p.m. Friday.

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  • Skip Conrad

    Come on, she’s a fascist disaster. She will do nothing for UC, except to make it even more of an elitist institution.

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