It’s Labor Day and Kevin de León, candidate in the United States Senate election, is, fittingly, at the Wilmington headquarters of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. He’s shaking hands, answering all manner of questions, eating pancakes and sausage and, importantly, he’s listening.

The man is charming, but not in an “establishment politician” sort of way. Rather, this is a guy who genuinely doesn’t feel above anybody. Yes, he’s on the campaign trail, so he has a duty to get out there and shake hands, smile, kiss babies — the whole circus. But there’s a rare sense that he’d talk to anybody anyway. He wants to help.

Boy, the country needs his help, too. But if de León is going to reach the United States Senate, the president pro tempore of the California State Senate is going to have to get through Dianne Feinstein first.

“I think it’s time for a change,” he says. “I think it’s time that we have a new voice in Washington, someone who will be on the front lines, not on the side lines. These are very dangerous times. We need a voice who will be on the front lines for climate change, the environment, workers rights, health care for all, and I want to be that voice for California. You’re right — Dianne Feinstein has been a politician for 50 years, half of those years as a U.S. senator. I think anyone who believes that we should be patient, who hopes the president could be a good president in the future, is very disconnected to the realities of what’s happening here in California.”

He might be right, but Sen. Feinstein has justifiably been a beloved figure on the left for a long time. To beat her, he’s going to have to do more than simply call for “change” and point at her length of service. He’s going to need a plan. And he has one, starting with his first move in office if he’s successful.

“I have to tackle health care for all,” he says. “Not Medicare for some — health care for all. Climate change, and a sensible immigration policy. The current occupant of the White House has made that much more difficult, but you need strong voices in Washington. Those will be three issues I’ll focus on.”

Those are three hot-topic issues, sure to excite the left and irritate the right in an America where it seems bipartisan cooperation, simple common sense, is out the window. The left needs warriors now, and de León is ready. The L.A.-born son of Guatemalan parents is as upset as any right-thinking person about the current administration’s handling of undocumented immigrants, not to mention legal immigrants.

“We have to stop the grotesque, perverse dismantling of naturalized citizens — people who have already become citizens and become legal permanent residents of the United States,” he says. “Now you have a Trump administration that is trying to go back to these files, looking for any potential mistake, to denaturalize them. That’s unheard of.”

Credit: Ryan Painter

Credit: Ryan Painter

We point out that permanent residents who are applying for citizenship are being denied due to the fact that they previously bought insurance under the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — which, of course, was a legal requirement. That ACA is being considered a subsidy and punishable is, says de León, insane.

“That’s almost an Alice in Wonderland thing,” he says. “That one of the requirements is mandatory health care, and by virtue of purchasing ACA, that would be used against you as receiving subsidies from the government, therefore you’ll be denaturalized, I haven’t seen anything as mean-spirited. This only proves that we have a president who is not only trying to hurt so-called illegal immigration, he’s trying to go after everybody who does look a certain way or he believes isn’t a true American. That’s why I want to be a voice in Washington, to stop that. You need someone to call it out. [We need] a common-sense immigration law to normalize the status of millions of hard-working residents who have been here for decades, who pay our taxes, obey our laws, who pledge their allegiance to the red white and blue, and through no fault of their own, because of the lack of courage of convictions from members of Congress, and there’s plenty of blame to go across Washington, they’ve been unable to normalize their status.”

The government also is attacking immigrants through ICE, created in the wake of 9/11. De León says that ICE is abusing its powers and must be dismantled.

“The focus of ICE was to be on terrorism, cybersex, pedophiles, trafficking of drugs and humans, assault weapons, and immigrants who fell into those categories,” he says. “To focus on mothers who sell tamales on street corners, working men who pay their taxes and sell oranges, splitting families apart, that is not the role of ICE. That’s why they have to be dismantled. They have been politicized by this White House. They’ve allowed themselves to be highly weaponized and politicized by this White House.”

De León’s views on health care essentially being a right, not a privilege, are sure to polarize opinions, though frankly they shouldn’t. As far as he’s concerned, California is the wealthiest state in the nation, and Medicare for all isn’t a pipe dream.

“We already do have a version of universal health care in terms of the delivery for the VA,” he says. “We have a disjointed system here in the United States, and we’re the third largest economy in the world. The U.K. is the sixth largest economy in the world, and they have a universal health care system, which is culturally part of the system whether you’re Conservative or Labor. What we’ve done unfortunately in America is politicize health care. So you can’t even have a healthy discussion on how can we have control of drug pricing — it’s all highly politicized. ‘Obamacare’ was originally supposed to be a pejorative for the right wing. They even racialized health care. We need to make sure that all American families have health care.”

Credit: Ryan Painter

Credit: Ryan Painter

De León makes sense. He talks about tough subjects with clarity and compassion, and his actions so far in his career have displayed similar sentiments. He was, for example, the author of a proposition that provided $2 billion to help homeless individuals with mental illnesses. And he was one of the leaders in negotiating the highest minimum wage in the country — $15 an hour. He’s a joint author of Equal Pay for Women Doing Equal Work. Gun control? He wants comprehensive background checks, training for those who are going to purchase a firearm, elimination of the purchase of “ghost guns” that can easily go undetected on an airplane, and regulation of the sale and purchase of ammunition.

“We have to take our policies — progressive, far-reaching policies from California — and export them to Washington,” he says.

Our final question to him — would he eat an In-N-Out burger?

“I would,” he says. “The customer service is always exceptional. The young folks who work at In-N-Out always have wonderful and professional, exemplary manners. To my understanding, relatively speaking to the fast food industry, they treat them very well. It’s better to invest in your employees over the long haul than to just use them as expendable commodities.”

“I choose mine ‘animal style,’” he concludes, with a laugh.

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