Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who was the longest serving female senator and a long-time advocate for ag labor reform, died at her home in Washington on Thursday evening.

“Senator Feinstein never backed away from a fight for what was just and right," according to a statement from her office. "At the same time, she was always willing to work with anyone, even those she disagreed with, if it meant bettering the lives of Californians or the betterment of our nation.”

The statement called the California Democrat a “force of nature” and that she “left a legacy that is undeniable and extraordinary” since entering the Senate in 1992.

Feinstein advocated for ag labor law reforms and introduced legislation in 2007 and 2009 to address issues with the H-2A program and agricultural workforce.

In August, she led a group of 30 senators opposing the Ending Agriculture Trade Suppression (EATS) Act, which she said “would undermine state and local food safety and agriculture laws across the nation” and added she is “opposing this harmful legislation from being including in the upcoming farm bill.”

She also was a co-sponsor of legislation with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, in recent weeks to address a critical shortage of veterinarians in rural communities to provide tax benefits to those who serve in shortage areas.

“Feinstein emerged as a pragmatic centrist on many economic and ag policy issues,” Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort executive vice president of advocacy, research and industry relations, said in an email to Agri-Pulse.

“Close to home for specialty crops, she took up the mantle on ag workforce reform in 2006, and never relented in her efforts to get a bipartisan workforce and H-2A reform bill across the finish line. Similarly, she was a powerful champion for agriculture’s cause on issues ranging from water to pest and disease mitigation.” 

Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said in a statement that Feinstein was "a trailblazer throughout her career" and had "long been a champion of agricultural labor reform."

Feinstein "was a critical part of bringing together both representatives of farmer workers and ag employers in search of a solution to one of the most serious issues facing farmers and ranchers across the country," Conner said. 

Dave Puglia, president and CEO of the Western Growers Association, called Feinstein a "champion" of California agriculture. 

"She leaned into seemingly intractable issues, especially water supply and immigration, to bring diverse interests together. No one ever doubted her mastery of the details or her drive to reach pragmatic compromises that would break through the ideological logjams that are too common in our politics today," Puglia said. 

United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero, said in a statement to Agri-Pulse, “Farm workers in California, and across the nation, have lost one of their strongest champions in the Senate. From fighting for a pathway to citizenship, to championing equal overtime pay for farm workers, Senator Feinstein fought with grit and grace to build an agricultural economy in which the workers who pick the harvest can fully share in the bounty.”

The International Fresh Produce Association said Feinstein "was a longtime and tireless champion of fresh fruits and vegetables in public policy, as well as a powerful and respected advocate of other agricultural issues affecting not only her home state but of the specialty crop industry as a whole."

While speaking on the Senate floor Friday morning, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said what stood out most was Feinstein was her integrity.

“Her integrity was a diamond. Her integrity shown like a beacon across the Senate and across the country for all to see and hopefully emulate,” he said.

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On the Senate floor, Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Feinstein the "steady hand" leading the sensitive work as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Stabenow said in a statement that Feinstein would go down in history as an “extraordinary American leader.” 

“She was a fierce, courageous advocate on so many important issues, from gun safety, to national security, to protecting the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community,” she said.

Specifically, Stabenow said Feinstein broke through many barriers for women. “She was an inspiration to me and so many women who followed her, and most importantly, she was my friend,” Stabenow said.

In a statement, California Gov. Gavin Newsom called Feinstein a “political giant, whose tenacity was matched by her grace. She broke down barriers and glass ceilings, but never lost her belief in the spirit of political cooperation.”  

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., offered his condolences on X (formerly known as Twitter), and said: “It has been an honor to serve with her in the Senate and on the Judiciary Committee. No one was more welcoming when I came to the Senate than she, and no one was a better example. She was tough, incredibly smart and effective. Always willing to work across the aisle to get things done, she was a person of unquestioned integrity. I admired her and will miss her in the Senate.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said in an X post that she was “deeply saddened” by the news of her passing. “Dianne and I worked closely over many years to protect the waters of the United States, which are amongst our nation's most precious resources.”

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