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Tauscher’s departure fuels major political buzz

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Wednesday, March 18th, 2009 at 5:26 pm in Congress, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics, Ellen Tauscher.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher

Rep. Ellen Tauscher

I may be at home on my couch recovering from bunion (foot) surgery but the calls are coming in about Rep. Ellen Tauscher’s decision to accept an under secretary job working for her long-time pal and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Tauscher must still win U.S. Senate confirmation, which could take weeks or months, but there is nothing to suggest that she will not secure the post. (Click here and here for my colleagues’ stories about the job.) Tauscher has serious national security creds and very well-placed friends in the field in which she would be entering, chiefly nuclear non-proliferation negotiations.

The political landscape is abuzz in Contra Costa County over who will run for the rare opening in an elected office with no term limits.

The names that most immediately come to mind are state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier of Concord or Assemblyman Tom Torlakson of Antioch, veteran Democrats and longtime friends. Both men have expressed interest in the seat but they probably won’t run against each other. Torlakson is serving his final year in the state Legislature, per term limits, and he has been running for state superintendent of schools. (Incumbent Jack O’Connell terms out in 2010.)

Other names include newly elected Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, a former San Ramon School Board trustee who had Tauscher’s endorsement. Contra Costa Supervisor Susan Bonilla’s name come up in conversations with local politicos, although she would likely run for the open senate seat should DeSaulnier take the plunge. Former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla, a moderate from Pittsburg, may also be thinking about it. One-time Lafayette Mayor Scott Talon has said he is interested but he’s been out of the political eye for years.

What about Republicans? The GOP could field a candidate although it would be tough for a Republican to win. Although more moderate than other Bay Area districts, it is 47 percent registered Democrat to 29 percent Republican.

The special election clock won’t start ticking until Tauscher officially resigns and the potnential candidates can look forward to three elections in a little more than a year culminating in the November general election in 2010.

Tauscher has not publicly indicated support for any candidate and I’m told she will not do so until the confirmation process is complete.

But make no mistake about it: Tauscher’s endorsement will be key in a special election, where time is short and voter turn-out is low.

Curiously, the politics of the potential candidates mentioned at this point don’t closely match Tauscher’s. She is the chairwoman of the moderate New Democratic Caucus, a group of fiscally moderate members of the House. A former Wall Street stockbroker, Tauscher often walks a tightrope between her fiscal politics and the more liberal elements of her constituency.

It is still very early, however, and other names could surface. Portions of her district include Solano County and electeds such as state Sen. Lois Wolk might have an eye on the seat.

It’s also true that you don’t have to live in the district to run for the seat. GOP Rep. John Doolittle’s resignation produced a number of out-of-district candidates, including the eventual winner, Tom McClintock, a former state Sen. from Thousand Oaks.

On a more personal note about Tauscher’s decision, I am not entirely surprised.

Her daughter is leaving for college this year. She is marrying the man she calls the “love of her life” this summer after a long sojourn as a single mother. Constant bi-coastal travel requires major personal sacrifices of both time and family. And the new job is a chance to focus on a highly complex, specialized area of national security where the outcome has global ramifications.

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  • MVP

    Congratulations to Ellen! Aren’t we glad we have two of the best people to replace her! With either Tom Torlakson or Mark DeSaulnier District 10 will be well served!

  • RR

    This is not a step up but a consolation prize.

  • Linda Sutton

    This is great news to get rid of another BLUE DOG DEM. We need to find a serious progressive who will be able to take over this seat.

  • RR

    The last serious progressive in U.S. politics was Bob LaFollette. Today’s version are epigones: cranks, mentally unbalanced sociopaths, ex-Stalinists, etc.