Politics in Contra Costa County took an interesting twist this week when long-time Congressman George Miller announced he would not seek a 21st term. Elected to Congress when he was 29 years old, he is the 5th most senior member of the House of Representatives.
His district is solidly Democrat so it will set off an interesting dynamic, particularly because there is no requirement that members of Congress live within the district before they run.
For instance, when Ellen Tauscher stepped down from her Congressional seat to accept a role in the Dept. of Energy dealing with nuclear weapons, that race drew sitting state Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, newly elected Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan and sitting state Senator Mark DeSaulnier. Garamendi prevailed and is in Congress today.
Buchanan is termed out of the Assembly this year and DeSaulnier's term runs until 2016 in the state Senate. After Miller's announcement, he withdrew from consideration for the top job in the Senate to focus his attention on the Congressional race.
For Buchanan, who likely has ambitions for the state Senate in two more years (although fellow Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla also likely is eying that seat), there's little to lose by taking another run at the Congressional office. With no federal term limits and seats that are still quite safe for one party, a House seat generally is a lifetime job. Look at Nancy Pelosi or Barbara Lee here in the Bay Area.
The California open primary changes the dynamic so a challenge from within the same party can succeedwitness Eric Swalwell denying octogenarian Pete Stark his 21st term (maybe George got the message, although he is 69, young by long-time Congressional member standards). Swalwell faces his own intra-party challenge this year when termed-out state Senator Ellen Corbett challenges him in the June Primary.
The same goes across the bay for Rep. Mike Honda, 73, who is facing younger upstart Ro Khanna, who is in his mid-30s.