California’s diversity means the state’s demographics match the national Democratic primary electorate almost perfectly. California has produced a bench of deeply ambitious young politicians, and they are disproportionately politicians of color, from Xavier Becerra and Kamala Harris to Eric Garcetti and Nanette Barragan. But many of these young politicians have faced a key barrier: the old class of Golden State politicians has been hesitant to get out of the way.
Former State Senate president pro tempore Kevin de Leόn has taken matters into his own hands, and has mounted an ambitious challenge to Senator Dianne Feinstein, a centrist who is often to the right of the emerging consensus in the Democratic Party. Ahead of the upcoming June 5 primary, I had the chance to sit down for a conversation with de Leόn and get his perspective on the race and why he thinks he can defeat one of the longest-serving, best-funded, and most recognizable incumbents in the country. (We had another follow-up phone conversation, where he talked about the race, his tenure as Senate president, and his family.)
On Feinstein’s Senate voting record
Feinstein, at one point, said that President Trump could “be a good president” if he tried to learn, which disturbed many progressive activists. It’s not the first time she’s inflamed the progressive base: Feinstein supported the Iraq War, infuriated unions by working with Bush to break up a strike and supported Bush’s tax cuts. And it’s not just what Feinstein has done that’s frustrated progressives, but what she hasn’t done. Medicare for All, for instance, has broad support in California, but she has yet to sign on to a Senate bill being promoted by many of her colleagues.
As the courts weigh more heavily on liberals, Feinstein’s approach to the judiciary under Trump has also come under scrutiny. Progressive group Demand Justice compiled the vote of every senator on all 39 Trump judges (including district, appeals and Supreme Court seats) where there was a cloture vote. According to the data, provided to the The Nation, Feinstein voted in favor of 55 percent of Trump’s judges. The median among Democrats was 51 percent. Senator Kamala Harris, also from California, voted yes on only 38 percent of Trump’s judges. Activists remain concerned that Feinstein might be willing to respect the “blue slip” tradition that Republicans did away with if a Democrat returns to the White House. (Blue slips are where minority-party senators get a say in who is nominated to federal bench seats in their state.)