Feinstein’s death prompts scramble for Newsom to pick farm-friendly successor

Feinstein’s legacy as a dealmaker on critical water legislation for California has left farmers seeking to quickly fill a void – starting with the interim appointment to her seat.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s death leaves a significant void in California’s water politics, as she built a reputation – particularly in latter years – fighting for agricultural causes and strengthening the state’s water supply for farming.

Now, Valley farmers and the ag sector are lobbying Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint a farm advocate to fill Feinstein’s seat amid an ongoing 2024 contest to replace her


Who’s the suggested pick? Rep. Jim Costa (D–Fresno), the longtime Blue Dog Democrat who has represented all but one San Joaquin Valley county during his tenure in the House.

  • John Harris, once the Valley’s top beef producer and owner of Harris Ranch, suggested Costa as a potential replacement in a Politico report, stating that farmers need someone similar to Feinstein who is supportive of agriculture.

The big picture: Conversations about who will replace Feinstein, both immediately and in the upcoming election, have quickly pivoted into the public realm following her death.

  • Water has long remained a contentious topic on Capitol Hill, particularly with regards to drought-prone California.
  • Feinstein and her staff, in consultation with now-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R–Bakersfield) and Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) managed to reset water management with the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, approved in 2016 over the objections of her outgoing California counterpart, Sen. Barbara Boxer, in 2016.
  • Feinstein’s work on water policies, such as passing the WIIN Act, is credited with encouraging water exports and facilitating important water deals in California.
  • Potential candidates to replace Feinstein, including Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff, have not significantly weighed in on water policies thus far.
  • Farmers have expressed concern about the future of California’s water politics and the need to foster relationships with both senators, including Sen. Alex Padilla.

What they’re saying: “We need to look for someone who is similar to her. We hope to have someone who is friendly to agriculture, and that’s something that Sen. Feinstein was,” said westside farmer Joe Del Bosque.

  • “[Feinstein] would get as much information as she possibly could, and then make a policy decision, often knowing that policy decision would frustrate people who would be closely politically aligned with her. She was never afraid to be a leader,” said former Westlands Water District chief Tom Birmingham.
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