It won’t happen, but a fitting tribute to Dianne Feinstein, California’s longest-serving U.S. senator, would be to have someone sing “My Way,” the paean to stubborn individualism made popular in Frank Sinatra’s 1969 recording.

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California has never seen a political figure as steadfastly insistent on doing things her way as Feinstein, who died Thursday night at her home in Washington D.C., at age 90.

Mostly, that was a good thing. As a San Francisco supervisor who succeeded George Moscone as mayor when he was assassinated in 1978, as a candidate for governor in 1990 and throughout her three decades in the U.S. Senate, Feinstein prioritized the job at hand, rarely distracted by political gamesmanship.

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California has a decades-long tradition of having one senator who makes headlines and one who concentrates on pragmatic duties of representing the state’s interests and doing the nation’s work.

Feinstein was always the latter, a trait that was particularly obvious when the other senators were Barbara Boxer and Kamala Harris. She was the one on whom California interest groups could depend to solve federal issues, and she was equally serious about matters of national importance, such as the CIA’s torture of suspected terrorists and gun control.

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The latter was a particularly high priority for Feinstein, who authored the now-defunct federal assault rifle ban.The strongest evidence of Feinstein’s independence was her stubborn refusal to cater to criticism within her own Democratic Party. When she was running for governor in 1990, for instance, she pointedly reiterated her support for capital punishment in a speech to a state party convention and was met with virtually unanimous boos.

Twenty-eight years later, while running for re-election, another Democratic convention snubbed her and instead endorsed then-state Sen. Kevin de Leon. Later, Feinstein handily defeated de Leon in the 2018 runoff election.

Feinstein’s insistence on doing it her way, despite what others in her party wanted, was on stark display when she began experiencing ill health, lost her husband, Richard Blum, and exhibited symptoms of cognitive decline. Although she finally announced this year that she would not run again in 2024, she stubbornly refused to resign.

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The situation is a big headache for Gov. Gavin Newsom – one of his own making– because he must quickly name someone to fill out the remaining 15 months of Feinstein’s term because of the Democrats’ paper-thin Senate majority.

Dan Walters is a journalist and author who writes for CALmatters.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. Folsom Times is an authorized CalMatters media partner in an effort to keep our local community

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