The Curious Case of Kevin de Leon


EASTSIDER-The news media is all over their headline that Kevin De Leon and “progressive dems” at the Democratic Convention in San Diego this weekend “denied” right-wing Senator Dianne Feinstein the party’s endorsement. So, is it true or is it horse puckey? 

Certainly, if you are Eric Bauman and the democratic party establishment, it’s the narrative they want to push. Young, vigorous, PC progressive vs. old fuddy-duddy conservative Dianne Feinstein. 

If you live in Northeast LA, maybe not so much. I can still remember a Northeast Dems (NEDC) meeting where we were introduced to our next Assembly member, Kevin De Leon. It was a fiat, a fait accompli. It was also clear from the gate that he was the next professional Latino democrat being guided through winning a safe district assembly seat by the Party Establishment. 

And speaking of professional Latino democrats, here’s the LA Times reporting on Maria Elena Durazo (of LA County Federation of Labor) in a mutual aid moment: “Durazo, who is running to take over De León's state Senate seat, said she was considering supporting him during a news conference Tuesday.” 

My point is, we in Northeast LA pretty much have top down democratic establishment candidates foisted on us, already loaded with big donor support/funds. Antonio, Kevin De Leon, Jimmy Gomez, it all starts to blur. 

As for Kevin De Leon himself, think of an inarticulate version of Antonio Villaraigosa. And so has he proven himself to be -- through two Assembly terms, two Senate terms, and even during his time as Speaker Pro Tem of the Senate. He has all the hot button Party issues covered: 

            - pro immigrant

            - pro environment

            - pro gun control

            - pro women’s rights (except for his roommate, Tony Mendoza)

            - pro Infrastructure (English translation: pro developer)

            - pro Medicare For All 

However, I do not recall seeing any robust staff presence in the actual communities that elected Mr. De Leon. You know, the troops. In fact, that has been the basic problem with most of the dems in Northeast LA. They are top down, instead of grassroots bottom-up based in and for the communities they serve.    

California Ain’t Washington D.C. 

Face it, California is the home of a semi-permanent Democratic Super-Majority. That complacency was reflected this weekend as the dems blocked an endorsement for Dianne Feinstein. Remember, the 2800 delegates to the San Diego convention are the party faithful, activists who cared enough to go through their own election process to become delegates and vote for candidates. 

So, it is by definition, a pre-selected group, even if the group is too “democratic” for Party Boss Eric Bauman. But California politics are nothing like Washington D.C. Remember when we used to laugh about the “Republic of Santa Monica”? Nationally, we are viewed as the “Republic of California,” and Jerry Brown is still referred to as Governor Moonbeam. 

Further (hat tip to Paula Bagasao), isn’t it curious that Kevin De Leon is trying to take out the most senior and powerful woman in the entire United States Senate? A body, I might point out, that’s the last of the Mohicans in its use of seniority for assignments. 

She also happens to be the ranking democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (would be the Chair if the Dems retake the Senate). Further, and very timely, she was the author of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban which expired in 2004. 

Now don’t get all giddy that I love Dianne Feinstein. As a good product of Berkeley in the 60s, I have not been a fan of her hawkish positions and cavalier brushing away of our First Amendment privacy rights. 

And in a weird kind of way, it is accurate, if not fair, to say that she would likely never have become Mayor of San Francisco (which really launched her political career) had it not been for that whack job Dan White murdering Mayor George Moscone back in 1978. At the time, she was definitely not in the democratic party’s next in line food chain to move up. 

That said, there are two reasons that it is critical she be re-elected. First, she has ameliorated some of her more hawkish tendencies in the face of being on the Intelligence Committee and seeing how the government routinely abuses its power to spy on you and me. This is a big deal, in an area where we desperately need grown-ups in charge. And she will Chair that Committee if the Dems retake the Senate. 

Second, and probably more important right now, our political parties have been reduced to warring tribes of Democrats and Republicans. Sometime soon, a center has to emerge to run the damn country before it slides down the tubes. Feinstein can and will be a key player in trying to forge such a consensus. 

The Takeaway 

The implications of all the 2018 elections are serious. Do we really want to swap the pre-eminent democratic senator, a woman who can reach across the aisle and hopefully achieve some much-needed consensus between the parties, for a freshman Latino from LA who knows nothing about Washington D.C.? 

It’s a no brainer. The differences between California chic and current Washington D.C. are simply too great. While Kevin De Leon may think he can step in and make a difference, I would urge people to take a look at the career of Xavier Becerra, a true, from the community, real grassroots progressive, an Assistant to the Speaker of the House under Nancy Pelosi, and Democratic Caucus Chair.  

I know he’ll never say it, but under the thumb of Nancy Pelosi, it became clear that he would never be allowed to move to the top spot. The thin-skinned Pelosi would never forgive him for disagreeing with her on health care reform in 2009. 

That’s how the game is played in D.C. In that context, I really don’t think De Leon’s experience in the California legislature will do anything for him in D.C. They play by different rules. 

He is no Kamala Harris, who made her mark as San Francisco’s DA and then California’s Attorney General after Jerry Brown became Governor. 

Not to mention help by none other than the iconic Willie Brown. And oh yes, Kamala won an endorsement from Dianne Feinstein. 

I’m proud to say that the East Area Progressive Democrats (EAPD) voted to endorse Dianne Feinstein for Senate ahead of the California Democratic Convention. Proof that grassroots bottom up progressive democrats can be pragmatic and tactical.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.