Kevin de León said he is depending on college students’ support in his bid for California’s U.S. Senate seat.
“I need the millennial vote,” he said. “I need the college vote if I’m going to be successful.”
Members of the Daily Bruin Editorial Board met with de León, a Democrat who is running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the June primary, at his campaign office Thursday. De León, a current California state senator who previously served as the state Senate’s president pro tempore, talked about his plans as U.S. senator and accomplishments in the state Legislature.
University of California
The UC announced in April it will not vote on an in-state tuition increase at its Board of Regents meeting in May, and will instead push for increased funding from the state Legislature.
De León, who opposes a tuition increase, said he is an advocate for providing more funding to the UC.
“During this upcoming budget process, which will be in just a month or so, we’re going to really have a robust debate on whether there’s a very true and real commitment to higher education,” he said.
Although the UC Board of Regents decided in its March meeting to ask the state Legislature to allow the University to provide financial aid to out-of-state students, de León said he is not ready to support that right now.
The UC provided financial aid to out-of-state students until 2016, when the state Legislature barred the University from doing so.
“My commitment is to California students, whether you’re from Cypress or Irvine, especially with a focus on underprivileged students who are just as smart as any other student,” he said.
Several UC unions led by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents service workers in the University, held a strike from Monday to Wednesday calling for wage increases and greater benefits. De León said he stands in solidarity with the union and thinks the University should bargain in good faith.
“This is about respecting dignity for all workers – the men and women who serve medical patients their food, who wheel them into an operating room,” he said.
De León said that, as U.S. senator, he plans to advocate for the federal government to play a larger role in higher education, such as by providing more funding to colleges and universities.
“Fifty-six cents on the dollars of federal discretionary dollars goes to the U.S. military,” he said. “Our priority should be our domestic security, our economy, our youth. … We need to invest in higher education.”
As state senator, de León introduced Senate Bill 54, unofficially known as the “sanctuary state” bill. The bill, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed in October, reduces the extent to which local law enforcement can provide federal authorities with information regarding undocumented immigrants. However, several local governments, including those of Orange County and the City of Santa Clarita, have opposed the law, with Santa Clarita filing an amicus brief.
De León said he thinks the cities’ opposition to the law is politically motivated and added that SB 54 is constitutional.
“They have sided with (President Donald) Trump over their own home state, California,” he said. “There’s a reason I moved forward with SB 54 – to make sure that Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions do not commandeer our local resources to be an extension of the Trump deportation regime.”
De León said plans to advocate for a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients who have faced uncertainty over their status after Trump announced the program’s end in September. The program, which deferred deportation for undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children, has been ordered to accept new applications following a federal court order in April.
“This is an issue that has been lingering for decades. We have to find a pathway – we have no other choice,” he said. “It’s a Kafka-designed immigration system that’s nonsensical.”
De León said that, if elected, he plans to sit on the U.S. Senate’s energy and environment committees and advocate for policies to combat climate change. He added he thinks the Trump administration’s lack of leadership on environmental issues has allowed other countries to progress in renewable energy development.
“Right now, we have a president serving on a silver platter the clean energy climate leadership mantle to the Chinese,” he said. “The Chinese are more than happy to assume that leadership mantle – there’s no one more happy in the world that Donald Trump is president than the Chinese.”
Comparison with Feinstein
Although Feinstein has served in the U.S. Senate for decades, de León said he thinks she is out of touch with Californians. For example, he said he disagrees with her votes to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and added that Feinstein is one of the Democrats in the Senate with the highest voting record for Trump nominees.
“We need to export Californian values to Washington, not the other way around,” he said. “The current incumbent has been too entrenched in Washington and Georgetown.”
Feinstein has tended to focus on national security and intelligence issues, de León said, and he added that he plans to instead focus on appropriations, the environment and foreign policy.
De León added that, unlike Feinstein, who has expressed a willingness to work with Trump, he does not believe it is possible to negotiate with the president.
“From day one, I made it very clear of my resistance to Donald Trump. I’ve never been fooled into believing that he can negotiate with anybody,” he said.