On Friday, the 29th of September, it was announced that long-time California Senator Diane Feinstein had passed away at the age of 90. Since 1992, she has sat in a seat for California in the US Senate and has become the Senior Senator of the state in the chamber.
Her passing, while not unexpected (her seat would be up for grabs, anyway, in 2024 as she announced she was not standing for re-election, spurred several theories as to who’d replace her in the interim.
One hint that current California Governor Gavin Newsom had when it came to who he’d replace Feinstein with, was he said that he would not choose one of the current candidates vying for the office (Representatives Adam Schiff and Katherine Porter are, among others, named candidates). That could mean that he is looking for someone who is not looking to run for that office and would be more than happy to yield the seat to whoever wins the seat next year.
This announcement immediately spurred speculation as to whom Newsom would name for that seat. One name that came up was Oprah Winfrey, the queen of talk shows and now philanthropic mover and shaker who has been supportive of residents of Lāhainā, Maui since the wildfires took place on August 8th.
And to many, their immediate visceral reaction to that is “Okay, maybe”. But make no mistake, Governor Newsom has an important choice to make, like that of what then Hawaiʻi Governor Abercrombie had to make when its Senior Senator, Dan Inouye passed away in 2012.
While this one will be nothing more than naming a benchwarmer for the California Senate seat, naming Oprah to it would immediately create a large amount of noise that may absorb her bandwidth, forcing her to move from her house in Maui to a place in Washington DC, and deal with Capital politics, rather than the continued aide for Lāhainā.
That may not be the best use of her time, nor would it be seen favorably by the people of Lāhainā and Hawaiʻi, especially after she has obtained a great deal of goodwill in the community by her immediate actions after the fires.
Now it could easily be argued that Oprah could name a program manager or person to represent her in continuing the aid that she has committed to. And maybe that would work for a personality that, in essence, is a brand upon themselves. In other words, it’s one thing to represent Oprah, it’s another thing entirely for Oprah herself to be front and center, present on the island and occasionally making appearances on behalf of the victims.
And while she has been judicious in her appearances, the fact of the matter is that her presence itself moves initiatives forward a lot faster than if she was not on Maui helping.
It is that presence of help that would be lost if Oprah packed up and headed to Washington to be a bench warmer. And to boot, her work up there would not necessarily have the same punch of help, as she will be bound to represent the issues of California first, and not Hawaiʻi or Lāhainā. Sure, she can be a cheerleader for it, but her ability to cheerlead for the people of Lāhainā will be muted due to other obligations that come from being a Senator from California.
In the opinion of this blogger, it would be better for Oprah to decline this opportunity and stay on Maui to continue aiding the people of Lāhainā in their recovery and rebuilding efforts. If someone else were to do it for her and she was to phone it in from DC, it could potentially damage the goodwill that she has rightfully earned through her actions. The people of Hawaiʻi are more likely to allow Oprah to speak on their behalf in larger forums that may offer long-term assistance to the people of Lāhainā because of her actions. This is a platform that is not often granted to Malihini and is something Oprah should recognize she has now earned.
So, to Oprah Winfrey, Politics Hawaii suggests that you don’t take the offer to go to Washington. Stay in Hawaiʻi, stay in Maui, the return on investment is better.