If Rep. Barbara Lee’s seat is open soon, Rob
Bonta could be in first in line to replace her.

CONGRESS | DISTRICT 13 | Every so often in the East Bay you hear chatter that Rep. Barbara Lee is pondering life outside of Congress. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier & Ross pushed the periodic rumor in their column Sunday, this time having Lee becoming the ambassador to Cuba.

The planets may seem aligned for such a move since President Obama has sought recently to loosen Cold War-era restrictions on travel to Cuba. Lee has long made normalizing relations with Cuba and its people one of her pet issues. Lee also appears to be itching for a bigger role in public life.

However, the portrayal of a “gentlewomen’s agreement” with President Obama should put some shade on the rumor. Politics is a dirty game and such agreements are bound to be broken. In addition, there is the qualifier of whether such a job is available before the end of Obama’s term, which is already on the horizon.

The phrasing could have been applied to rumors last year that Obama was about to appoint Lee to a post within his administration. That Lee was passed over for the secretary of labor position even though the impetus for her consideration was the absence of any women in his cabinet, shows such agreements are nebulous.

Conversely, Obama may feel like he owes Lee. The ambassador to Cuba will assuredly be a high-profile post, at least, in the present. Regardless of the efficacy of the rumors, there is a perception in the East Bay that Lee is not the congressional lifer in the vein of Pete Stark and George Miller. In short, the number of years before Lee retires, or moves on to another role in government, could be counted on one hand, not two.

But, now to the politic parlor talk. Who could replace Lee is the very progressive 13th Congressional District? Matier & Ross listed first, termed out Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, and then 18th District Assemblymember Rob Bonta. The short list should be reversed.

Skinner represented the Berkeley side of the congressional district and is eyeing a run in 2016 for the state senate seat held by termed out State Sen. Loni Hancock. Bonta, in just one term in office, has successfully charted a quick course to the top of East Bay politics not seen in generations.

Bonta is the big dog in the East Bay. If you disagree, then you haven’t been paying attention. Anyone who followed the package of firearm legislation that came out of the East Bay Assembly caucus saw it was Bonta, despite being the freshman, who led the group. Meanwhile, longer tenured colleagues like Skinner came across as playing secondary roles.

Whether Bonta would jump at the chance to replace Lee is unclear, especially, when you take into account his rising stature within the California Democratic Party. Bonta is also from the 2012 class of legislators eligible to serve 12 years in Sacramento. If the first two years were any indication, the sky is the limit for what he can accomplish. The question for Bonta is whether there is ample opportunity for him to get as much done in Washington as he could in Sacramento, and, maybe in statewide office?