After the election of Donald Trump it was clear that it was not only time for a change, but that times were changing. Fed up with the status quo, newcomers to politics, as well as seasoned veterans in the field, have sought higher office by taking on longtime incumbents.
State Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), who was elected to state Assembly and then the state Senate for a combined 12 years, is one of those challengers, going up against 85-year-old US Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has held that office since 1992.
De León, 51, recently spoke with VCReporter, a sister publication of the Pasadena Weekly about his main issues: gun control, health care, immigration and working with Republicans.
In an ironic twist, the Los Angeles Times last week revealed the results of a poll that showed many Republicans — this election season without a candidate in the US Senate race — will be voting for left-leaning De León, not moderate Democrat Feinstein. According to the Times, conservative media commentators have been urging Republicans to vote for De León as a form of retribution against the senator, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee who drew President Trump’s ire in the wake of the hearings for now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
VCReporter: There are a lot of normal Democratic issues, which include free education, Medicare, health care for everyone. Many people believe there isn’t funding for them and bipartisanship won’t happen in Congress. What would you do differently?
Kevin De León: Let me say this, I spent the vast majority of my childhood without health care. And health care is a huge issue for all Americans regardless of where you are politically on the spectrum. Today, in America, we spend $3.3 trillion on health care. It is both public as well as private, whether it’s HMOs or PPOs, whether it’s public, county public hospitals as well as community, we spend about $3.3 trillion on health care. It is estimated at $3 trillion on expanding Medicare, not for some, but Medicare for all. If you don’t believe me, ask the Koch Brothers. The Koch Brothers initiated this study; they wanted a very clear outcome, but per their methodology, it came out clear, it would be $3 trillion a year as opposed to the current system, $3.3 [trillion].
Any way California can break away and test this model and prove concept?
I think that the current political climate, it’s a little challenging. Medicare for all is best under a federal framework. The reason I say this is because you need exemptions, waivers from the federal government. With the current administration, obviously that would be very difficult. If you had a Democratic administration, and wanted to do a sort of a test-model state to see if it in fact does work, you could, in fact, secure exemptions and waivers that are needed, as well as subsidies that are needed. Perhaps you could do that, but not under the current administration, but this is best under a federal framework.
How you engage Republicans is that health care is health care. Again, it doesn’t make a difference who you are and where you come from; you shouldn’t politicize this. It shouldn’t [be an] ideologically driven issue because when you break a leg or have a tumor and it’s metastasizing. The tumor doesn’t care if you are a Republican or a Democrat. It’s your health, especially if you are the head of household, if you are a mother, or single mother, you are the bread winner of the house. It impacts the whole family. So that’s why we have to deal with this issue of health care for all.
You would be taking over Dianne Feinstein’s seat, but she has decades of political experience. She has seniority. How would you overcome those sorts of assets?
That’s a good question. I would say that seniority means nothing if you don’t use your seniority. The classic narrative of Washington is that built-up seniority over a course of many, many decades, positions certain individuals to do well, but the reality is we have witnessed certain hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, much younger senators in terms of seniority … Cory Booker, Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, Kamala Harris, provided much more energy, much more pointed questions. They are not senior members. Whether people agree or not, Elizabeth Warren has clearly elevated key issues to a national level; she has no seniority. Seniority means nothing if you don’t use it. I think that was displayed clearly through the hearings of Brett Kanavaugh.
The issue of gun control many of us are concerned, but there is the gun rights aspect. Why aren’t things being done now in the way you feel they should be addressed?
Let me say, we have to do something about this because of the way our children are dying. I thought that Sandy Hook would be that watershed moment when Americans would come together regardless of whether you were Republican or Democrat, that we would come together as a nation and finally do something about gun safety, gun ammunition safety. That wasn’t the case. … Because of the inaction in Washington, because of the lack of leadership. For example, on ghost guns, I was tough on ghost guns way before the mainstream media which just recently started reporting on the issue of ghost guns, through the manufacturing of ghost guns through 3-D printers as well as ordering parts online, having them delivered, which was legal, but no longer legal now in California.
What are your thoughts on immigration reform?
The issue of immigration is something that is deeply personal to me, being the youngest child of a single immigrant mother with a third-grade education. And this is a sad reality; immigration reform has failed in Washington, D.C., because of the lack of [action] in Washington. And because lack of [action] from our leaders in Washington. I’ve had to act in California on the issue of sanctuary state. I am the author of sanctuary state. On the issue of driver’s license, I negotiated a deal with the driver’s licenses with the governor, Jerry Brown. I also committed roughly about $40 million for naturalization to encourage folks to become US citizens, or legal permanent residents. Also, I allocated money for Dreamers who are under the threat of being detained and eventually deported by this administration.
And ICE, by the way, was created by the vote of the senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, back in 2002, the National Security Act. A part of it was a creation of ICE. And ICE is a police agency that has strayed greatly from their original mission to deal with, it was created in the wake of 9/11 to deal with terrorism, to deal with drug traffickers, human traffickers, gun-running traffickers, to deal with international cartels, TCOs (transcontinental organizations), to deal with pedophiles, cybersex. But now to deal with violent criminal felons. To me it doesn’t make a difference if you are from Ireland or from China or elsewhere, but they focus on hardworking families, Dreamers, people who sell tamales, oranges, who are trying to make ends meet. You have a wayward agency that’s out of control, that’s been weaponized and politicized by [a] White House that is using it for their own electoral objectives by dividing the community.
The Democratic Party is at a kind of a crossroads. You’ve got your traditionalists in people like Dianne Feinstein, you’ve got people like you who are progressives, and then you have the democratic socialists, their visibility becoming more prominent. How does all that work in trying to unify when you’ve got these different directions?
I think the more ideas, I think the more policy ideas we have within the party and different ways of thinking, I actually think the better. I am not an orthodox, restrictive individual that there has to be only one set of ideas. I think that some folks maybe find it a little messier; I actually don’t find it messier. I like to sit with folks more to the right, you know, left of center, socialists — that’s much more to the left — and sit down and engage in different policy issues. So to me, it’s not about going more to the left or going more to the right, being conservative or liberal. To me it’s about doing what’s right for Americans, clean air, clean water, health care for all, sensible immigration reform, elevating our economy so we can have high-wage-paying jobs as opposed to struggling with two or three jobs to make ends meet without any health-care benefits, without any defined contribution plan at your place of employment. So to me, it’s not about being more liberal or more conservative. It’s about doing what’s right. And I think that, to date, I have been successful in moving policies using political capital, using that political capital to leverage and moving the policies that I think are right, even though it may be controversial, that I think are right for all Californians and that would be good for all America.
How do you feel about campaign finance reform? So many elections are bought.
I support it. I have always supported it. I always voted for campaign finance reform.
What can we do to actually get that moving?
We need a Democrat. We have millions of dollars being spent out of the pocket of a multibillionaire who is a senior senator incumbent in California. I agree with you; elections should not be bought. These are not coronations. These are elections. It’s a part of the democratic process. We need a Democrat in the White House. We need to overturn Citizens United. We have no other choice. We have to work toward taking back the House and the US Senate and working feverishly to get a Democratic president in the White House. Ultimately it relies on Citizens United. With that being said, there are many local municipalities as well as state governments that can move towards campaign finance reform. I wrote the language, I am not the author, but I wrote the language with regards to a disclosure act on ballot initiatives that you had to, in a transparent way, name the top three contributors so you wouldn’t have dark money coming in and influencing the ballot initiative process, which is a bastion for very wealthy individuals who want to circumvent the legislative process.
Are there any Republicans you could see yourself working with in the future?
Let me take that a step further. There are a lot of Republicans that I have worked with. In fact, there are a lot of Republicans in the [state] Senate and Assembly who actually voted for me for US Senate. They sent me texts and showed me pictures that “I voted for you.” And I know why they voted for me. Because although we may be from different parties, although we may have different outlooks and perspectives, I have never denigrated them. I’ve never humiliated them. I’ve always treated them with respect. I may not have voted for their measures, and some measures I may have voted for; I helped them when they needed my help. I had to secure Republican votes for cap and trade. I needed Republican votes for SB1, also known as the gas tax, which they are trying to repeal right now through Proposition 6. I needed Republican votes so I needed to sit down and negotiate with them. I have a track record of bipartisanship.