22 Oct Why Progressives Should Vote for De Leon
Often, when we write a progressive voters guide, there are push backs and disagreements among fellow progressives and leftists. One of the largest during the primary in California of 2018 was our support of Kevin De Leon, who had a long track record of being on the progressive side, but on paper, he didn’t seem as progressive as some of the other candidates. Since his primary win, many progressives have jumped over to team KDL for the reasons many supported him in the beginning, since his poll numbers have more than doubled since the primary. However, one reason this progressive and left of center candidate may not win yet is because the lack of unified front from progressives to come out to vote for him along with low voter turnout.
As a rule of thumb, we will usually have some disagreement about whether to vote for a more progressive candidate in the midterms because they aren’t progressive, socialist, or leftist enough. We explain in our guide that we aren’t aligning with this approach of what we consider to be more ideological than a mix of ideological, practical and progressive. In other words, we don’t base our endorsements solely on the positions of the candidates since a candidate’s likelihood of being elected has to do with a mix of their previous experience, success, hard-earned reputation, relationships built, and yes, their political positions.
When it comes to the current race between KDL and Senator Diane Feinstein, unfortunately, this position ironically argues on one hand he won’t win so don’t vote for him, but if progressives don’t vote for either, you give another tally to the neoliberal Feinstein. Basically, since Feinstein is predicted to win, the progressives abstaining, along with 24% of voters, allows for the establishment to remain. In short, when we come in contact with those who will not vote for certain candidates because they aren’t radical enough, the best we can do is to agree to disagree on our approaches. We will engage on other subjects…
There are several things we do stand to challenge though. First of all, we have to challenge the merits of the argument “KDL can’t win anyways” because it casually disregards recent polls from October 18 of this year from Five Thirty Eight and from numbers confirmed by another September poll from the Public Policy Institute of California. They say it may be possible, but I do agree that before, there was no chance.
Technically, there is some potential for voters to elect de Leon considering that polling has consistently showed him (rising 30% from 15%) growing in support and Feinstein (41%) losing her lead. Looking at the numbers, her lead has been cut in half since the primary. The 10% difference between the candidates could be disrupted by 8% of undecided voters and 24% of voters not intending on voting, and by an increased number of voters in midterms, combined with the wave of voters whose progressive candidate lost in the primary. So, if the question is whether it is possible that KDL can win, the answer is yes. Is it likely? No, but that is why this is such an important fight. We need all progressives who obtained from this vote to join us to make the sacrifices necessary to upset the establishment.
Regarding KDL’s record, there are a few things that I would bring into question if our group ever met him and his team. Namely, when he blocked a plastic bag ban and the Cadiz project from starting. Both of these projects have connections to his mentor and speaker Fabian Núñez, which may include some questionable links. We don’t have enough info to really know. However, we do know his response to the plastic bag ban had some legitimacy; he didn’t support the first ban because he argued that it would harm California jobs, but after working to secure these jobs, he proceeded to support the plastic ban in 2017. So, it mostly checks out.
We are genuinely working from a place of solidarity with fellow progressives and leftists, so let’s touch on our concerns more in regard to the Cadiz project. We should of course question his decision to stay out of the investigation of the project. If we were to put this into context, I would say this is likely similar to the moment when you realize that even progressive presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders failed us many times as well. We would have strongly supported AB 1000 and the investigations into the Cadiz water project because of the costly environmental impact it would have caused in not supporting it. His campaign lays out some clear concerns with the bill since the bill had some major red flags in terms of it being altered last minute before the vote. The bill would have altered the ability of the California Environmental Equality Act, and the campaign says they would have supported it otherwise. So, it seems both a procedural issue if changing the bill last minute and altering one of the most widely reaching bills in California went outside of the scope of the Cadiz project. This is what we call putting in a nail with a sledgehammer. Additionally, KDL has donors who are questionable, such as a donor from the Cadiz Project, all which I will bring up when I discuss my own concerns with his staff after writing this short essay. He returned the check, and to this day, he has only accepted one corporate check from a Latino television network because of his Latino family ties. This is similar to the concerns we had about Bernie Sanders supporting votes for drone strikes across seas. I knew the stakes of the presidential election when he himself faced off in a high stakes election against someone with a lot of establishment clout, wealth, and name recognition.
One slight difference would be that Feinstein is a long-time senate incumbent while Clinton, if elected, would have just maintained the Clinton political dynasty. Both are based in politics and have stayed the same because of ties with corrupt insiders and wealth. In both cases, I know we have a decision to step up to the plate at the moment we are deciding between the lesser of two evils, which would long shape California’s political history. KDL will never be a Bernie Sanders, but the battle being fought is clearly the same. The choice is between a neoliberal Diane Feinstein versus a progressive Kevin De Leon, one a disruptor and another a 26-year incumbent sitting on a $9.8M war chest.
Ryan Asher of Millennials for Revolution comments as a California delegate why he has pushed for KDL. He points out something we have often talked about with fellow members of the Future Left. We both found that many times, our political views become a battle of not electing someone who may make things better but trying to push for someone who may deserve an award for “sainthood.” This ideology of purity politics does not equal senate seats nor does the push for a more progressive candidate equal “blanket pragmatism,” but instead, it allows for 26-year incumbents to continue to have no real threats against their seat because of leftist infighting, her name recognition, and wealth after giving her own campaign $5M. Infighting amongst progressives has long been an issue for dividing us against our biggest enemies. See Asher’s exact words, and notice the similarities between progressive candidates who win and who idealize the political battle ground as ideological warfare. Asher says:
“With rare exceptions, genuine progressives are not currently prepared personally and institutionally to win races for higher office. We have not spent decades building relationships among ourselves and with labor unions, grassroots organizations, endorsers, and donors. Many have learned the wrong lesson from Bernie Sanders, who spent forty years in the trenches, campaigning, and organizing, and governing.”
In this moment, we should look at KDL with the merit of his whole record instead of discounting him at a large risk of his chance to unseat a neoliberal villain. He has been a leader on many of the most important issues progressives find important, such as the following:
SB100: 100% clean energy by 2045 (bill written by KDL himself)
AB700: Empowers small donors with a better matching funds system. KDL single-handedly saved this bill by cosponsoring it and pushing it through the senate.
SB562: We have progressive candidates like Hildebrand and Hartson who stood by important positions in the primary but they did not do the same work or walk the same walk as KDL. De Leon has voted for it every time it came before him, and he was more than critical to getting 562 through the Senate floor. Note: he supports both SB 562 (Healthy California Act) and HR 676 (Medicare for All Act).
SB535 Allows green energy funding to go to disadvantaged communities. Elites who prioritize climate change issues over a host of other major issues like campaign contribution fairness and transparency, health care for all, housing and labor politics of the working class fall into the category of the elite boutique environmentalists. KDL disrupts this California tendency. California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act was one of the biggest victories for progressives in October of last year.
I want to express a special note of appreciation for Ryan Asher for spending long nights chatting about politics before we created our guides, giving lots of assistance and insight. The clarity I felt writing this post would not be possible without him.