Undaunted by recent polls that show him trailing against California’s second-longest serving U.S. Senator, state Sen. Kevin de León revealed a broad plan to help eradicate the San Joaquín Valley’s persistent poverty while striking out a tough stance against Trump administration policies that harm the immigrant community.
“I want to be in a position of power to help effectuate positive change that will have a positive impact on the human condition,” said de León during a 62-minute visit with The Fresno Bee editorial board. “It’s time we had someone on the frontlines, not the sidelines.”
De León, the youngest child of an immigrant mother from Guatemala who cleaned homes in the wealthier enclaves of San Diego, painted himself as the right person for the moment.
“We are engaged in a battle for the soul of our nation; and, I think the status quo is either unwilling or incapable of fighting back,” said de León, who represents a district in Los Angeles. “I believe we need to stop biding our time while this president unravels California’s progress.”
De León, 51, did not make an issue of the fact that the incumbent, Dianne Feinstein, is 84 years old and would serve into her 90s if re-elected to a fifth, six-year term.
However, he referred to her lack of action on certain issues as a reason he deserves the vote in an all-Democratic race.
“Seniority means nothing if you don’t use that seniority,” said de León, who was the first Latino to serve as state Senate leader when colleagues voted him in in 2014. He is termed out.
De León pointed to the recent uproar over the recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative, to the U.S. Supreme Court and the more recent OK of 15 more Republicans to federal benches.
“When you vote to approve 15 more (Republicans), this is after Kavanaugh, to the federal bench, this shows me a huge disconnection to the realities of California today,” said de León.
De León accused Feinstein, who has a 16-percentage lead in the most recent Public Policy Institute of California poll, of not battling the Trump administration.
We’re an innovative, creative state. We’re a disruptive state. We don’t just push the envelope, we tear the envelope. I think that’s why we need new leadership that is reflective of the dynamics of California today.
State Sen. Kevin de León
“When the comment was made last year that we should be patient with the president and perhaps in the near future he could be a good president shows a huge disconnection to the realities of what is happening in California,” said de León.
He said Feinstein’s remark came after Trump’s attempted Muslim travel ban, the president pulling out of the Paris agreement on climate change and the Charlottesville demonstrations by white supremacists.
“We’re an innovative, creative state. We’re a disruptive state,” said de León. “We don’t just push the envelope, we tear the envelope. I think that’s why we need new leadership that is reflective of the dynamics of California today.”
De León’s plan to battle poverty is to shore up education opportunities and take advantage of clean energy manufacturing to create high-wage jobs.
“For the Central Valley, it’s absolutely critical that we also grow other types of industries. And, I believe the clean energy space, whether its manufacturing or assembling, is very key and critical,” said de León.
He mentioned the opening of a Chinese facility in Lancaster that assembly clean energy vehicles like tow trucks and double-decker buses that provides 1,000 jobs. The Valley, he added, should pitch similar facilities because the state is a world leader when it comes to clean energy.
“We are not the regional leader; we are not the national leader. We are the world leader,” said de León. “The world watches California very carefully.”
On other issues:
Immigration: The country has the right to protect its border, but a border wall does not make sense when “south-to-north migration is at a 50-year low.” “This nation has turned its back on our family of immigrants, and we have quite frankly betrayed American children,” he said. De León said immigration reform is his top priority, and that he will look for alliances with Republicans to come up with a solution.
Migrant caravan: “They’re fleeing gang violence. They’re fleeing poverty. And climate change makes their existence harder in a country (Honduras) that is already poor to began with,” he said. De León said the U.S.’s voracious appetite for drugs and the Colombian drug cartels puts them “between a rock and a hard place.” De León said migrants should be allowed to apply for political asylum and go through the vetting process.
“Unfortunately, we have an administration that is almost limiting altogether the process when it comes to vetting folks for political asylum,” he said.
Water: De León said that the proposed Temperance Flat dam “does not pencil out.” However, he said he is willing to listen to supporters of the dam. He is against Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed Twin Tunnel project. His opposition to both is that he doesn’t think the snowpack will be there in future years due to climate change. “I think we’ll have to learn to be much more efficient and manage our water in California, especially in the Central Valley,” said de León, who believes underground water storage makes sense.
Voice for the Valley: Asked his thoughts on the Valley feeling left out due to bigger population centers in the Bay area and Los Ángeles, de León blamed “lip service from elected officials regardless of political party.” De León pledged to continue to visit the Central Valley. He called for state spending that is “equitable,” where areas in need get more than rich areas.