Connecting California: 'Sen. Joe Mathews' — an idea so crazy it just might work, governor
Dear Gov. Newsom,
You’re overwhelmed with texts and calls, and I understand why. With the election of Kamala Harris as vice president, you must appoint someone to fill the final two years of her U.S. Senate term. Everyone in politics wants this gig, and that’s a lot of pressure.
So let me take this burden off your hands. You don’t have to make the excruciating decision to elevate one of your politician buddies over all the others.
You could send me to the Senate instead.
At first, you may find the idea absurd. You might ask: Why in heaven’s name would I bestow a U.S. Senate seat on some smart-ass columnist who makes fun of me publicly, has no government experience, and occupies no elected office higher than School Site Council chair at his local elementary school?
The answer to your question lies in that absurdity. Only a crazy choice can meet this crazy moment for you and for California.
Let’s start with your own political interests.
Our state has thousands of powerful people, many of them your donors, who could see themselves in the Senate. Dozens of smart, honest Democratic politicians — from U.S. House representatives like Karen Bass or Katie Porter to mayors like London Breed or Robert Garcia to statewide elected officials like Xavier Becerra or Betty Yee — are desperate to rise to higher office.
You’re in a terrible position because there is no obvious best choice, and since you can pick only one, your choice is guaranteed to breed resentment. There’s a real risk that some terrific Democrat you reject will end up running against you for governor in 2022!
So don’t fall into the no-win trap of picking a highly qualified, highly ambitious Democrat! Instead, pick me, an unqualified journalist who is not a member of any political party and has zero political ambitions!
I would fill the seat for two years while those Democrats battle amongst themselves to take the seat in 2022.
Now, your advisors might fear that making me senator would seem like a joke. But that perception is my appointment’s central virtue. You’d be sending an unmistakable message:
Yes, our new senator is a joke — but nowhere near as big a joke as the Senate, or as American pretentions of democracy.
The Senate embodies the undemocratic American system that cancels California’s best efforts to protect our people and address big problems.
It’s indefensible that California and its 40 million people get the same two Senate seats as Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, Delaware, or the Dakotas, even though each of those states has fewer people than Fresno County. It’s intolerable that a party hostile to California holds majority control of the Senate, while representing a minority of the people.
California should never do anything that makes the U.S. Senate look good. But that’s exactly what you’d be doing if you appointed a great public servant.
If you picked Secretary of State Alex Padilla, he would bring MIT-trained brilliance and a record of improving California’s voting system to a body that insults our democratic intelligence. Padilla, whose parents came from Mexico, also would bestow California’s attractive diversity on a Senate that, extensive studies show, favors white people and contributes to systemic racism.
Should we send the Senate our best? Padilla would be wasting his time and talents in a Senate controlled by Sen. Mitch McConnell, who will spend the next two years blocking the new president’s priorities.
We Californians would all be better off if I — or another unserious choice, like a comedian with a great anti-Senate set, or one of those clowns up in Blue Lake — were dispatched to the Capitol as a human middle finger to this anti-democratic monstrosity.
If that middle finger were me, I’d be happy to vote how you like on whatever scraps of legislation McConnell lets through. And, as a reporter, it would be easy for me to report back to you discreetly on Dianne’s health. Beyond that, I would put all my writerly energies into attacking the Senate in which I would sit.
I wouldn’t deliver a speech without calling for the dismantling of the body. I would constantly quote the late, long-serving congressman John Dingell, who argued for the Senate’s abolition, and Alexander Hamilton, who criticized the Senate because it represented states, not people.
“As states are a collection of individual men, which ought we to respect most, the rights of the people composing them, or the artificial beings resulting from their composition?” Hamilton said. “Nothing could be more preposterous or absurd than to sacrifice the former to the latter.”
And if nothing is more preposterous than the U.S. Senate, then your appointee for that open seat can’t be too preposterous. Governor, why not fight the absurdity of the American system by sending an absurdity to Washington?
Your fellow Californian,
Joe Mathews, firstname.lastname@example.org, writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.