Senate candidate has long road to winning in November

Kevin de León presented himself to Claremont Monday evening as a true underdog. 

The current California Senate President pro tempore and Pitzer College grad made a stop to the Democratic Club of Claremont meeting at Pilgrim Place’s Napier Center, which included residents and city leaders such as Councilmember Sam Pedroza.

In a roughly 20 minute speech followed by a short Q and A session, Mr. de León positioned himself as the alternative to current California senator and Democratic mainstay Dianne Feinstein. 

“I believe that this [election] offers us an extraordinary opportunity to change the way we Democrats do business in Washington,” he said. “Because the status quo, business as usual, is not working for us California Democrats, especially when it comes to Donald J. Trump.”

He has a lot of ground to make up. A poll published by the Public Policy Institute of California on February 7 shows him with 17 percent of likely California Democrat votes, compared to Ms. Feinstein’s 46 percent. In a phone interview, Mr. de León said his plan was to engage voters in cities like Claremont to bridge the gap.

“I have to do my very best to disrupt the status quo by engaging with the many diverse communities up and down the state of California, which was what brought me to Claremont,” he said.

Mr. de León grew up in San Diego, and graduated from Pitzer College in 2003. In his speech Monday evening, he likened Claremont to “a second home.”

“Pitzer College is one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the nation,” Mr. de León said. “It has a very progressive, hands-on approach to dealing with the complexities that we face every day, but with real life solutions.”

Mr. de León spent much of his speech drawing a sharp contrast between himself and Ms. Feinstein—whom he only referred to as “our current senior senator”—on key issues such as juvenile incarceration, vouchers for private schools and voting in favor of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He accused her of voting in favor of a border wall in 2006, years before President Trump made it a cause célèbre.

He was also quick to dispel a looming factor in the race—age. Ms. Feinstein, 84, is currently the oldest sitting senator. If she wins re-election this year, she would be in her 90s by the end of her term.

Mr. de León, 51, said ageism does not and should not play a part in the race.

“Whomever you are, wherever you come from, no matter how old you are, everyone should have the right to run,” he said. “It’s never about ageism.”

He did note that in her campaign against former California senator Alan Cranston, Ms. Feinstein noted that at 72, Mr. Cranston was too old to be a senator.

Mr. de León told the crowd that California should be “on the front lines” when it comes to issues such as healthcare, clean air and clean water. He said that in the state senate, he helped codify federal environmental regulations into law to prevent the Trump administration from scaling them back.

But it was immigration where he portrayed himself as entrenched with California’s current values. The author of SB54, also known as the “Sanctuary State Bill,” he told he crowd he “caught a lot of hell nationwide” on the issue.

“As the youngest child of single immigrant mother with a third grade education, it’s my values that drive me,” he said.

Ultimately, immigration law is up to the federal government to enforce, a fact that he told the crowd he understood.

“I also know that we, as a state, don’t have to spend a single cent or lift a single finger to be a cog in the Trump deportation machine, because we all believe in family values,” Mr. de León said. “We all believe in family values, and those values are we don’t want to separate mothers from their children and children from their fathers, not in a great state like California.”

He also expounded on his open letter, posted the day after the 2016 presidential election and co-authored by California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, which positioned the Golden State as a leader in the “resistance.”

“I identified [Mr. Trump] from day one as mentally unfit and a man who is driven by the values of white supremacy,” he said.

While Mr. de León is seen as the more progressive of the top two Democratic candidates, he has not been without flak from lesser-known candidates to his left. In an interview with the Bay Area News Group Tuesday, candidate Alison Hartson called him out for taking money from corporations, noting a “good progressive” wouldn’t do that.

When asked to respond to that claim, Mr. de León pointed to other actions that define him a progressive, including advocating for climate change policies, equal pay for women and passing single-payer healthcare.

“So that’s progressive,” he said. “A progressive puts their words into actions.”

After resident Connie Weir asked if he would stand up to the NRA, he emphasized that he changed the law in California that placed background checks on purchasing ammo, which he describes as the “fuel that leads to violence.”

One of Mr. de León’s academic advisors, Jose Calderon, professor emeritus of Chicano/a and Latino/a studies at Pitzer and board member of the Latino Roundtable, was also at the talk. Mr. Calderon lauded his former student. 

“We have the best person running for this office that you can possibly have, and I urge your support,” he said.

—Matthew Bramlett



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