Divine Right: From Lantos to Speier

Although the timing will be sooner rather than later, the death yesterday of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Cal.) leaves unchanged the succession in his 12th District (San Mateo) seat desired by both the 28-year lawmaker and most Northern California Democrats.

When he announced his retirement earlier this year, Lantos gave a strong endorsement to State Sen. Jackie Speier, a fellow liberal Democrat, as his successor. Although he had previously criticized Speier for her lack of foreign policy experience, the 79-year-old chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee finally weighed in for her as a “first-class public servant who has made the community’s most pressing priorities her own.” 

Other Democratic powerhouses in the Golden State quickly followed the venerable Lantos by giving their blessings to Speier. Among those endorsing the 57-year-old lawmaker were area Reps. Anna Eschoo and Mike Thompson, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and more than 100 local officials. 

Although Speier has been in the state legislature and before that the San Mate County Board of Supervisors (and lost a primary bid for lieutenant governor in ’06), she is probably still best-known as an aide to the late Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Cal.), who held the 12th District until his death by gunfire outside Jonestown, Guyana in 1978. When Ryan was gunned down by followers of the diabolical Rev. Jim Jones (whose People’s Temple the congressman was investigating), staffer Speier was also wounded. She later recovered and ran in the special election for Ryan’s House seat, losing the Democratic nomination to fellow Ryan staffer Joe Holsinger (who lost the special election to Republican Bill Royer; Lantos returned the district to Democratic hands in 1980, one of only three Democrats nationwide to unseat GOP House Members as Ronald Reagan was sweeping to the presidency).

In writing about Speier’s candidacy in the all-important Democratic primary June 3, the San Francisco Chronicle referred to is as “looking more like a coronation.” With Lantos’ passing, the coronation will soon be on us.