In the pitched and often messy battle for the soul of the Democratic Party, California progressives have clearly found a hero in liberal firebrand Kevin de León.
Since July, the former president pro tem of the state Senate has gained significant ground in the polls, making his long-shot bid to oust Dianne Feinstein on Nov. 6 from the U.S. Senate seat she has held since 1992 seem like, well, less of a long shot.
He also has picked up endorsements from five members of Feinstein’s hometown San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the influential California Labor Federation and even the California Democratic Party. Most recently, he has scored political points by criticizing the senator’s handling of the tumultuous hearings leading up to Judge Brett Kavanaugh‘s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.
None of this, however, makes de León the right person to be California’s next U.S. senator.
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Before the June primary, we urged voters to consider two questions when deciding between de León and Feinstein. First, which candidate can truly deliver for California? And, second, who will better defend the people of this overwhelmingly blue state against the administration of President Donald Trump?
To those, we would add a third question: Which candidate has the better temperament to be U.S. senator?
If the answers weren’t clear before, they should be now. It’s a thankless job being the adult in the room, particularly in Congress, but somebody has to do it — and that somebody isn’t likely to be de León.
The Kavanaugh hearings illustrate this perfectly.
Last month, when word got out that Feinstein had in her possession a confidential letter from California professor Christine Blasey Ford accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault, de León was quick to call out the senator for a “failure of leadership.”
“The American people deserve to know why the Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee waited nearly three months to hand this disqualifying document over to the federal authorities,” he said in a blistering statement.
The answer, of course, is because Ford asked Feinstein to protect her privacy and not notify the FBI. But de León’s statement quickly became a narrative that Republicans co-opted for their own nefarious political purposes, ultimately doing Democrats more harm than good in their efforts to block Kavanaugh’s nomination.
What’s more, by issuing that statement, de León also opened himself to criticism at home, with women at the Capitol pointing to the way, as head of the California Senate, he slow-walked a bill to extend whistleblower protections to legislative employees who wanted make allegations of sexual harassment.
There’s also the statement de León made last month, insisting he would have walked out of the hearing at which Republicans tried to set a vote on Kavanaugh. That’s easy to say and do when you’re not a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, as California’s other senator, Kamala Harris, proved. Feinstein didn’t have that luxury and so was right to stay put.
Much of the difference between de León and Feinstein comes down to style, rather than views on public policy. Both support more protections for undocumented immigrants, favormore gun control and see addressing climate change as a major priority.
But de León, 51, represents a wing of the Democratic Party that is fed up with the old, polite and often slow way of doing things. Feinstein, at age 85, is known for her inclination to adhere to protocol, strive for civility and reach across the aisle in compromise.
Voters skeptical of these tactics should look to her lengthy track record of success in delivering for California.
Feinstein was the author of the 1994 assault weapons ban and co-sponsor of the Desert Protection Act, which created the national parks in Joshua Tree and Death Valley. As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, she has helped bring billions of dollars into the state for for transportation and water projects.
But none of this means Feinstein is justified in ignoring de León, even though her campaign war chest dwarfs his. The senator should abide by a promise she made this year to debate him, both because voters deserve it and because he is a worthy opponent.
De León is an undisputed leader in the California-led resistance to Trump administration. He is the son of an immigrant mother who was the first in his family to graduate from high school. He got his start as in politics as a community organizer, helping to mobilize protests against Proposition 187, which would have have cut health care, education and other benefits for undocumented immigrants.
As a state senator, he authored Senate Bill 54, the sanctuary state bill, limiting the cooperation local law enforcement can have with immigration authorities at a time when the federal government is ramping up deportations and separating families at the border. More recently, he got Gov. Jerry Brown to sign off on an ambitious goal of California getting 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045 at a time when the Trump is making it easier for the fossil fuel industry to pollute.
Still, by experience and by temperament, Feinstein is the better choice for U.S. Senate.