U.S. Senate candidate Kevin de Leon and community activist Bert

Who Is Kevin de Leon?

By Michael D. Evans

Kevin de Leon hopes to be the next U.S. Senator representing California.

“I believe that California wants bold leadership and real change,” says de Leon.

De Leon (D–Los Angeles), currently in the State Senate and the recent past president pro tem of that body, is challenging incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–San Francisco) in the November midterm election. De Leon and Feinstein were the top two vote-getters in the June 6 “jungle primary.” Because of California’s open primary system, it is possible for two persons from the same party to advance to the November ballot.

Raised in San Diego, de Leon was the first in his family to graduate from high school and college. He graduated from the Pitzer College at Claremont Colleges with honors. Before seeking political office, de Leon was a community organizer having worked with the National Education Association and the California Teachers Association.

De Leon shocked the political world earlier this year by crushing Feinstein in the California Democratic Party (CDP) pre-primary endorsement vote. Although defeating her 54% to 37%, de Leon fell short of the 60% threshold to receive the party’s endorsement. That endorsement was revisited after the primary at the CDP’s July Executive Board meeting in Oakland. Although Feinstein encouraged the delegates to take a “no endorsement” position, de Leon prevailed with 65% of the vote to easily gain the party’s endorsement.

“I rolled up my sleeves and called every delegate member and gave them a message of hope and opportunity for the 2018 election,” says de Leon, “and I am honored that they have overwhelmingly responded to my message by giving me their endorsement.”

De Leon says the endorsement is “a huge signal to California and the rest of the nation that Democrats are very restless and want bold leadership in Washington.”

            As a U.S. senator, de Leon says that his priorities will be “jobs, healthcare, climate change and our environment, and immigration reform.” He intends to “build coalitions with like-minded politicians regardless of political party to help make policies that improve the human condition for all Americans.”

            No stranger to the Central Valley, de Leon has visited many times in the past five years. He cites a list of initiatives he has led that benefit the Valley including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, negotiating overtime for farmworkers, creating parks and open space via the Statewide Park Development and Community Revitalization Act of 2008, moving forward a clean energy policy to help clean up some of the dirtiest air in America and investing millions of energy-efficient dollars in Central Valley public school districts.

A key issue for the Central Valley is immigration reform. Although the term is widely used, rarely do the specifics of what immigration reform would like get addressed. “It should allow hard-working families who obey our laws, pay their taxes [and] pledge allegiance to the red, white and blue the ability to normalize their status,” says de Leon. “The problem has been a lack of leadership in Washington. They should be going to Washington to work on solutions to help people, not hurt them or divide them.”

            Polling shows that de Leon faces an uphill battle in taking on Feinstein. But he seems unworried about that. “I have been at a disadvantage all my life, the youngest child of a single immigrant mother with a third-grade education and the only one to graduate from high school in my family.”

“To navigate a huge field of 32 candidates to land in the top two and secure the endorsement of the California Democratic Party are huge accomplishments,” said de Leon. “Now we have the ideal situation, a one-on-one match-up. My campaign is fueled by the power of the people, not money in politics. It’s about traveling up and down the state of California to hear the voices of real Californians who want a better life for themselves and their children.”

In taking on an incumbent, conventional wisdom says that a challenger must clarify the differences between the challenger and the incumbent and make the case for the incumbent’s removal. De Leon is passionate about the contrasts between he and Feinstein: “I believe in Medicare for all, not in Medicare for some. I believe in immigration reform, protecting our immigrant communities. I believe in economic growth through our green energy policy.

“I don’t believe that voting for wars will solve our economic problems at home and give young men and women an opportunity to succeed in higher education. I don’t believe that voting for a huge Republican tax cut will stimulate the economy for working families. I don’t believe in voting to allow the federal government, especially with this presidential administration, to spy on American citizens without a judicial warrant.

“I understand much better the trials and tribulations, the pain and anguish, the hopes and aspirations of millions of Californians who are struggling just to make ends meet.”

As State Senate president pro tem, de Leon headed what was arguably the most progressive legislative session in the country’s history. De Leon outlined some of the achievements during the session:

  • A minimum wage increase to $15 an hour
  • Equal pay for women doing equal work
  • The most far-reaching climate change policy in the nation
  • The sanctuary state to protect our immigrant communities
  • The most comprehensive gun and ammunition legislation in the nation
  • Parks and open space and clean water laws
  • Healthcare for undocumented children
  • Price transparency for pharmaceutical companies
  • Retirement security for our working class who suffer from retirement insecurity
  • Historic investments in education

We still have much work to do,” de Leon acknowledges. “We still have deep inequities in our society that must be reduced and eliminated altogether. Ultimately, we must provide opportunities of success for all Americans regardless of who you are and where you come from, the hue of your skin, who you love, which God you pray to and, yes, illegal status.”

“The status quo is going to say it is not your time,” says de Leon. “The status quo is going to use all the money imaginable to stop us.”

“That’s why it’s our story and our struggle together,” he states. “We have always been told ‘no.’ We have always been told ‘no, you can’t do this.’ We have always been told we’re not intelligent enough. We have always been told we’re not talented enough. We have always been told we’re not skilled enough. We have always been told ‘no, no, no.’ It’s time to tell them ‘Yes.’”

On the Matter of Seniority

A key position of Sen. Dianne Feinstein supporters is that she has seniority and with our other senator, Kamala Harris, being a junior senator, California would lose influence within the Senate’s decision-making apparatus. Regarding the issue of seniority, Kevin de Leon, her Democratic challenger, responds as follows:

  • Seniority means nothing if you don’t use it.
  • Seniority has voted for two Republican wars that have cost this country $6 trillion to date.
  • That’s $6 trillion that we should be investing in Medicare for All, that we should invest in debt-free college, that we should invest in clean energy, that we should invest in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, for Parkinson’s, for a variation of cancer.
  • Seniority voted to allow 13-year-olds to be prosecuted as adults without mercy.
  • Seniority voted for a wall with our neighbors to the South a decade before Donald Trump ever started talking about the wall.
  • Just this year, that seniority voted to allow the federal government to spy on American citizens without a warrant.
  • With this President, that seniority has voted for 60% of appointees to the federal bench and these are lifetime appointments without term limits.
  • Seniority is a tool. If you’re using the tool wrong, it does not matter how precious the tool is.
  • More than seniority, we must have the courage of our convictions to stand up, to have a voice for working families in California.
  • Consider Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker¾none of them has seniority and they are elevating their voice. Barack Obama spent not even a full term in the U.S. Senate and he ran to become the President of the United States.

*****

Michael D. Evans is a political activist, editor and writer. Contact him at evansm@usa.net.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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