When Rep. Henry Waxman announced his retirement last month, he insisted he was not leaving out of frustration with Congress. The Democrat who was rumored to be running for his empty seat in California, however, may be staying out of the race because of it.
"While I strongly considered offering my candidacy for Congress, I feel there is a better way for me to advance the causes that are important to our community," Fluke told the Los Angeles Times late Tuesday night.
The lawyer and women's-rights activist plans to run instead for the state Senate, where she believes she would be able to accomplish more than she would have in Congress. Fluke has a point: Aside from skirting congressional gridlock, staying in state government means Fluke will actually wind up with a larger constituency than she would have had in Congress, as California has more congressional districts than it does state Senate districts.
Fluke had moved from "strongly considering" a congressional run last week to seeking party support by filing with the California Democratic Party on Tuesday. The decision suggested to many that Fluke was already gearing up for a congressional campaign.
Fluke's turnaround could be due to competition for Waxman's seat. Democrat Ted Lieu already has a state senator's gig under his belt, and former City Controller Wendy Greuel was expected to attract a similar set of voters as Fluke would have. Fluke worked with EMILY's List, a political action committee that seeks to elect Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights, during the 2012 election, but the group backed Greuel in an unsuccessful Los Angeles mayoral race last year.
Fluke's decision to run for state Senate mirrors a growing movement among state governments to push ahead on policy issues, such as raising the minimum wage and expanding prekindergarten education, that are stalled at the federal level. These days, a young, up-and-coming politician can more easily build a reputation in local government for getting things done than she could in Congress.
Fluke became a national political celebrity in 2012, when conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" after her congressional testimony in favor of requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of contraception.