Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Feinstein-Panetta Back Story

Posted By on Tue, Jan 6, 2009 at 4:16 PM

click to enlarge feinstein_thumb_200x301.jpg

By Peter Jamison

Obama's tapping of former Monterey congressman Leon Panetta for CIA director was bound to raise hackles among pols and pundits. While Panetta has that rarest of political assets -- an unimpaired reputation for probity among his colleagues and former constituents -- he has little direct knowledge of intelligence work.

Still, there can be no doubt that the pot was set all the more furiously astir with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's public disavowal of Panetta once the news broke. "I know nothing about this, other than what I've read," Feinstein said in a statement. "My position has consistently been that I believe the Agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time." When one veteran California political figure makes a statement like this about another, it's fair to ask: Is there more here than meets the eye?

The obvious flash point in the Panetta-Feinstein back story is the 1998 California governor's race. The two were widely viewed as the heavies in the Democratic primary, even though neither ended up running. In one episode from the prelude to the campaign, San Francisco Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi passed over Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor, to endorse Panetta, then chief of staff in the Clinton White House.

As Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle noted at the time, "The truth is, the conservative and fiercely independent Feinstein has never been considered a part of Northern California's liberal power base on Capitol Hill -- a club represented by Pelosi, Contra Costa Congressman George Miller and formerly Panetta." Pelosi later threw her weight behind Feinstein for governor, amid speculation that Panetta had privately indicated she should change course.

click to enlarge panetta_thumb_200x288.jpg

Feinstein found herself facing off against Panetta -- in his role representing the Clinton Administration -- a few other times in the mid-90s, notably on plans to close military bases in California and battles over balancing the federal budget.

But none of this should be construed as anything beyond the sort of "relatively minor" skirmishes that can happen between members of the same party, according to Robert Smith, a political-science professor at San Francisco State University. "I wouldn't read any past political difficulties between them," Smith said.

Opposition to Panetta may subside as critics realize that his integrity and experience -- including firsthand knowledge of intelligence issues from the inner sanctum of the Clinton White House and a successful spell directing the Office of Management and Budget -- are nothing to sneeze at. (Full disclosure: I grew up in Panetta's old congressional district, where he is still widely liked.)

In the meantime, Feinstein is making new waves. Following her snub from Obama on the Panetta pick, Feinstein broke with fellow Democrats this afternoon to express support for the beleaguered Roland Burris, who was appointed to the Senate by scandal-plagued Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Fiercely independent, indeed.

  • Pin It

About The Author

Peter Jamison


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"