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Opportunity squandered as Jackie Speier goes to congress

Jackie Speier, once known as Karen Lorraine before she adopted a confirmation name to honor the widow Kennedy, has gone to Congress.

She’ll be brilliant.  A legislative body that prides itself on investigative drama will find their newest member a willing colleague. 
As a legislator in California Jackie ran a tight committee.  She does her homework.  She enjoys the prosecutorial role and is willing to engage from the dais in debate.  The list of complicated legislation she authored has astonishing depth.  She is also a public figure who is naturally insightful when it comes to the motives of others.  Be assured, her friends in Congress will discover Jackie’s many enviable traits when they read regularly about her in the newspapers.

History serves well in politics.  It can be expected that Jackie will hire bright people.  They will like working for a legislator who does not waste a notch on targets that can’t become front-page fodder.  There is a sense of purpose to ferreting out injustices, great and small.  Her staff will respect the Congresswoman’s tirelessness, and will find employment in her office good training ground for later successes.

Jackie has a story of genuine courage to tell, one that has been the centerpiece of her numerous campaigns.  She lost her mentor, the adventurous Congressman Leo Ryan to the gunmen outside of Jim Jones’ Guyana compound in the late-seventies.  Jackie was shot several times herself and braved horrific conditions.

The talent of Ms. Speier is a matter of record.  Her arrival in Washington bears no resemblance to the lore of the wide-eyed local in awe of the monuments. She had no doubt of her own importance when she proclaimed on her first day that she ‘was not a newbie,’ and found a comfortable spot behind the microphone to claim a moral high ground and lecture the nation on our future in Iraq.
Congress was the place Jackie wanted to be when she tried unsuccessfully to replace the late Congressman Ryan thirty years ago.
It was no longer in her master plan when she distinguished herself as a state assemblywoman and state senator.

Jackie was an inspired candidate for constitutional office in California.  Instead of challenging Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor, a shootout that would have been fascinating when Arnold was still a Republican, she chose instead to run for Lieutenant

Governor in a three-person race. 

The ultimate winner, an estimable and determined lifetime politician, would not have won if an under-rated state senator named Liz Figueroa did not enter the contest.  Figueroa took almost eighteen percent of the vote, almost all of it from Jackie, and Speier lost by a less than five points.

Not always popular with her peers, Speier’s behavior toward Figueroa, whom she dismissed as a pale version of a senatorial ideal, was costly.  Speier’s uncompromising satisfaction in her own course, her sense of entitlement when it came to the liberal and women’s vote, was knocked off track by those who personally liked Figueroa and found her refreshing.

The result is one of the great might have beens.

Had Jackie made an effort to work with Liz Figueroa and won the Lieutenant Governor’s race, she would have used the bully pulpit and her affection for press releases to be an obvious choice as the first woman governor of California. 

Not yet sixty, she would have taken over the state house, run a wonkish, yet stylish administration, and been in front of the line to accept a vice presidential spot on a national ticket.  The idea of Speier becoming president would not have been ridiculous.

Of course, the Congresswoman is nothing if not adaptable.  She makes light of being the 435th member of Congress, but there is a pathway she no doubt views as her new course.  Just because she was sidelined on her way to the governorship, doesn’t mean one of her staff shouldn’t be tasked with calling Senator Feinstein’s office every morning to get an idea of when our senior senator is going to retire.


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