California’s Senate and House Seats; What’s Going On?


Ellie Gladson-Pang, Staff Writer

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California is almost 90-years-old and has been reckoning with acute short-term memory issues for some time now. Surely, the U.S. political sphere must have joined the public in foreseeing her eventual retirement and planned accordingly, right? And yet, Senator Feinstein’s official announcement of her plans to retire next year has sent Washington D.C. and California into a panicked frenzy of campaigns and announcements that no one seems to be able to keep up with.

The future state of California’s representation in Congress is one of the biggest news items so far in 2023, but it’s one of those topics that you can’t quite get a grasp of. Who’s running for what seat, and are they leaving an old seat open in another district? Who is favored to win, and who is endorsed by whom? All the names and faces can be a little much to keep track of, so here’s a simplified outline of the biggest races slated to go down in 2024.

Even the most seasoned political junkies can admit that the subject can be a little hard to follow–things are always changing in government, by virtue of what seems like constant elections and ever-shifting issues. It may seem like there are millions of articles that you haven’t quite had the time to read, on current event topics that change every minute. If you glance away from your news feed for even a minute, beware, because the entire United States Congress may have rearranged itself and held two more elections in that time. So if the barrage of current events is making your head spin, skip the confusion and let me give you the context of the 2024 California elections.

First, some background. In each of the 50 states in the U.S., elected representatives advocate for their state and party interests in Congress. Each state is allotted two Senators and the number of seats in the House of Representatives is apportioned according to population. California currently holds 52 seats. Additionally, the California state legislature is made up of representatives elected to the State Assembly and the State Senate.

Members of the House serve terms of two years, and their seats are up for reelection every even year. Senators, however, serve terms of six years, and their elections are staggered over even years. This assures that only about a third of the Senate is up for reelection at a time, allowing for the efficient allocation of party resources in each election cycle.

Now, all the news you’ve likely been hearing about the upcoming elections starts with Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has represented California since 1992 and is 89 years old. Sen. Feinstein is a Democrat, California’s senior senator, and the longest-serving female senator ever. However, on Feb. 14, she announced that she would not seek reelection in 2024. This opens California politics up to a competitive race for the seat she has held for three decades.

It’s rare for a Senate seat to open up, meaning that many of the 52 House representatives from California and other state-level legislators will vie for the spot. However, three main front runners have emerged.

Representative Adam Schiff, a moderate Democrat and a current member of the House representing California’s 30th district, is well known for leading the first impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump as the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee in 2019. Rep. Schiff was also on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. His decades of experience in the House and fearless criticism of the radical right will likely earn him favor with liberal voters, and he is expected to tout issues including environmental protections and infrastructure investments. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already pledged to endorse Schiff, giving him another leg up.

Representative Barbara Lee, a progressive Democrat and a 25-year member of the House, is the highest-ranking African American woman appointed to Democratic leadership as the Co-Chair of the Policy and Steering Committee. Following the 9/11 attacks, Rep. Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against Joint Resolution resolution 64, the Authorization to Use Military Force, that gave the president power to use force against anyone involved in planning the attacks. The resolution was intended to pave the way for an invasion of Afghanistan – which was successful, and led to two decades of U.S. occupation in the country – and her objection was controversial, but she voiced her opinion that the resolution made it too easy for the president to declare war. Rep. Lee is a strong proponent of racial and gender equality, and could serve as a key representative of African American women in the Senate. This is an especially critical point, seeing as the upper chamber has been without a black female since former Senator Kamala Harris’ acceptance of the vice presidency.

Representative Katie Porter is a newer representative, but since her election in 2019, she has taken a powerful stance in many debates that have gone viral; her unrelenting and pointed questioning of Fortune 500 CEOs and Trump administration officials have demonstrated her faith in speaking truth to power. Rep. Porter is a former consumer protection attorney and student of Senator Elizabeth Warren at Harvard Law School and has been able to discredit many powerful figures in her unorthodox three House terms. Rep. Porter, like Rep. Lee, is a progressive Democrat, but is not as established or traditional as the other two front runners. Rep. Porter can be seen as the underdog of these three, considering her relatively small amount of experience in politics.

All three of the most prominent candidates already hold seats in the House of Representatives, and that’s where this web starts to get complicated. Rep. Schiff, Rep. Lee, and Rep. Porter will not seek reelection in the House due to their runs for Senate, opening three seats that were previously not in heavy contention. For Rep. Lee’s seat in the 12th district, three Democrats have already expressed interest: State Assemblywoman Mia Bonta, President of the Bay Area Rapid Transport Board of Directors; Cal State Trustee Lateefah Simon; and former Oakland City Councilor and runner-up for Mayor of Oakland in 2022 Loren Taylor.

Rep. Schiff and Rep. Porter’s districts are similar; only Democrats are running in Rep. Schiff’s District 30 (Porter’s District 47 in Orange County is a much more contentious place, with prominent candidates from both major parties). In both districts, candidates include multiple state senators, state assembly members, and city council or board of supervisor members.

The trickle-down effect of Feinstein’s imminent retirement is illustrated even further down the chain as state-level legislators announce runs for higher-ranking positions. California Legislature positions are now opening up, which will allow for a new wave of participants in government.

Clearly, California is gearing up for fierce battles over issues, including gender, race, ideology, social security, education, abortion, immigration, foreign policy, LGBTQIA+-related issues, and crime. This is especially critical considering the 2024 Presidential race that will coincide with these smaller-scale elections, and 55 Californian electoral votes. 

So now you’re all caught up. Now what? Talk to your friends about what’s going on. Peruse the newspaper for updates. Join a volunteer organization and get involved. But even if you do the best you can to keep up, there’s always more to know, if you can believe it. So keep talking, keep reading, and keep participating, even if it feels like you’ll never catch up. Just remember: at the core of our democracy are our people. And that includes you!


Photo by Katie Moum