Given that Dianne Feinstein has been a fixture in San Francisco politics since the 1970s, you wouldn’t think a town hall meeting with California’s senior senator before a hometown crowd would matter much. But the election of Donald Trump as president has turned conventional politics upside down.
Since January, town hall gatherings by members of Congress, even in Republican districts, have been dominated by Democrats energized by Trump’s stunning victory and threats they perceive from his agenda on health care, immigration, the environment and more.
That’s why Sen. Feinstein’s free public event Monday on the city’s west side could get interesting. Feinstein doesn’t hold many question-and-answer events that are as freewheeling and potentially messy as this one. She tends to stick to sessions in controlled public policy-type settings, like recent gatherings sponsored by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Public Policy Institute of California.
Feinstein appears to be running for re-election to the seat she’s held since 1992, and while polls show her popularity remains intact, voters also express concern that she’ll be 85 years old on Election Day 2018.
During Feinstein’s 25 years in the U.S. Senate, she has earned status and seniority, with seats on the powerful Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees. She has also developed a reputation for collegiality and working across the aisle, often co-sponsoring legislation with conservative senators like Richard Burr (R-NC).
While that has served Feinstein well in the past, it has never endeared her to the Democratic Party’s liberal base. The Bernie Sanders wing of the party is where much of the energy is now coming from, and it will be telling to see how they respond to Feinstein’s town hall presentation and answers.
Shortly after Monday’s event was announced, the roughly 1,000 free tickets were snatched up online. There was grumbling on Twitter from the anti-Trump activist group Indivisible San Francisco (an offshoot of the national movement) that the time (Monday, 11 a.m.) and location (the Scottish Rite Masonic Center at Sloat Boulevard and 19th Avenue) were inconvenient, especially for folks who work during the week.
However, on its Facebook page on Sunday, Indivisible announced they “may have a few extra tickets” from people who couldn’t make it. Feinstein smartly adopted Invisible SF’s suggestion for taking questions, telling attendees with comments to take a ticket when they arrive and that tickets will be randomly pulled for the Q and A.
Whether activists like the anti-war group Code Pink abide by such an orderly protocol remains to be seen. Don’t count on it.
Feinstein has a second town hall meeting Thursday in Los Angeles. It is sold out, too. First-term California Sen. Kamala Harris will hold a town hall on Friday in Los Angeles.