"Our leaders are the finest men/And we elect 'em again and again." -- (Tom Paxton, "What Did You Learn In School Today?")
Google the phrase "what's wrong with California politics," and there's a really good chance you'll pull up the name of Jeff Denham, who's being termed-out as a state senator.
It's been known for some time that Denham intended to run for lieutenant governor, and to that end he had amassed a very large campaign fund, a necessity when seeking a statewide office.
Then Dave Cogdill announced he wasn't going to seek re-election to the state Senate, that he wanted to spend more time with his family. Normally, that phrase is a tip-off to look for either a brewing sex scandal or a pending indictment, but since neither seems to be the case with Cogdill, and since he would have been, despite his contretemps with the state GOP regarding the budget hilarity, a virtual lock for re-election, he apparently meant exactly what he said. Rare, that.
In any event, Cogdill's retirement spurred GOP Assemblyman Tom Berryhill to announce for the suddenly open Senate race. This move created an open Assembly race, which drew former Modesto City Council member Janice Keating (who's just been termed off the council) into the fray.
It also caught the attention of the aforementioned Denham, who decided to abandon his pursuit of the lieutenant governorship in favor of a run for the Assembly seat that Berryhill was vacating.
At least part of this decision was surely the realization that while a statewide office would be very difficult for a conservative Republican to win, his war chest would enable him to outspend Keating (or any other likely candidate) to a fare-thee-well, and effectively steamroll his way into the Assembly.
Then Rep. George Radanovich announced that he wasn't going to seek re-election (his wife is ill) and suddenly, Denham wasn't a candidate for either lieutenant governor or the Assembly any longer; now, he was running to replace Radanovich in Congress. Following Denham's political ambitions over the past month is a little like watching an old-fashioned pinball machine, the shiny orb bouncing merrily hither, thither and yon.
Denham's latest move must have Keating doing the happy dance, but it has also caused salivation in other quarters: Current Modesto City Councilmember Kristen Olsen and former Turlock councilmember Kurt Vander Weide are both eyeing Berryhill's old Assembly seat while making silly noises. Before announcing Monday, Olsen mentioned all the people that are urging her to run, while Vander Weide outdoes her by declaring, "I love that district so much." You can't make this stuff up.
There are others involved in this political gavotte, including former Congressman Richard Pombo, who announced Monday that he would also seek Radanovich's seat.
You can count on one thing with all this: Each of these folks will campaign as an "outsider," intent on "cleaning up the mess in Sacramento/Washington." Emphasis will be placed on "continuing public service," or some such pallative.
Never once will any of them utter the phrase "wannabe career politician."
Flint is a Modesto resident. Write him at email@example.com.