But Leno had every right to take on Migden. And win or lose, he has done a laudable public service: it's been years since we've seen Migden around town, talking to constituents, returning phone calls and pushing local issues the way she has in the past few months. And while there will be some anger and bitterness when this is over and some friends and political allies have been at each other's throats and will have to figure out how to put that behind them on balance this has been good for San Francisco. Migden has done much good, much to be proud of, but she had also become somewhat imperious and arrogant, a politician who hadn't faced a serious election in more than a decade. If this election serves as a reminder to every powerful Democratic legislator that no seat is truly safe (are you listening, Nancy Pelosi?), then the result of what now seems like a political bloodbath can be only positive.
The Third Senate District, a large geographic area that stretches from San Francisco north into Sonoma County, needs an effective, progressive legislator who can promote issues and programs in a body that is not known as a bastion of liberal thought.
Both Migden and Leno can make a strong case on that front. Leno, for example, managed to get passed and signed into law a bill that amends the notorious pro-landlord Ellis Act to protect seniors and disabled people from evictions. He got both houses of the Legislature to approve a marriage-equality bill twice. During his tenure in the unpleasant job of chairing the Public Safety Committee, he managed to kill a long list of horrible right-wing bills and was one of the few legislators to take a stand against the foolish measure that barred registered sex offenders from living near a park or school. Migden helped pass the landmark community-aggregation bill that allows cities to take a big step toward public power. She's also passed several key bills to regulate or ban toxic substances in consumer products.
Migden's record isn't all positive, though. For a time, she was the chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee although she gave up that post in 2006, abandoning a job that was important to her district and constituents, to devote more time to campaigning for Steve Westly, a moderate candidate for governor. When we challenged her on that move, she showed her legendary temper, attacking at least one Guardian editor personally and refusing to address the issue at hand. Unfortunately, that isn't unusual behavior.
Then there's the matter of ethics and campaign finance laws. The Fair Political Practices Commission has fined Migden $350,000 the largest penalty ever assessed against a state lawmaker for 89 violations of campaign finance laws. We take that seriously; the Guardian has always strongly supported ethics and campaign-finance laws, and this level of disregard for the rules raises serious doubts for us about Migden's credibility.
Sup. Chris Daly posted an open letter to us on his blog last week, and he made a strong pitch for Migden: "While there are only a few differences between Carole and Mark Leno on the issues," he wrote, "when it comes to San Francisco politics, the two are in warring political factions. Carole has used her position in Sacramento consistently to help progressive candidates and causes in San Francisco, while Leno is a kinder, gentler Gavin Newsom."
He's absolutely right. On the local issues we care about, Migden has been with us far more than Leno. When the public power movement needed money and support in 2002, Migden was there for us. When the University of California and a private developer were trying to turn the old UC Extension campus into luxury housing, Migden was the one who helped Sup. Ross Mirkarimi demand more affordable units. Migden was the one who helped prevent a bad development plan on the Port.