Where is California’s Elizabeth Warren, a champion for poor?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks about raising wages during an AFL-CIO summit on Wednesday.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks about raising wages during an AFL-CIO summit on Wednesday. The Associated Press

California’s political leaders have hailed the so-called California comeback, and Gov. Jerry Brown began his historic fourth term by citing progress in the number of jobs created and the unemployment rate.

While it is absolutely true that our overall economy has improved dramatically since the depths of the Great Recession, our leaders are much less inclined to talk about the inconvenient fact that California’s growth has primarily benefited the wealthy. Our most accurate poverty measure shows that an astounding 23.4 percent of Californians – 8.9 million people – cannot feed their families or pay the rent. This is by far the worst poverty rate in the nation. Simply put, lower- and middle-income workers have seen no “comeback.”

California is a deep blue state, but too often Democrats are more interested in appeasing corporate lobbyists and the Chamber of Commerce than fighting for families. Of course, the problem goes far beyond California. In Washington, D.C., many Democrats are often just as beholden to corporate power as their Republican counterparts. In fact, without an assist from Democrats in Congress, Republicans could not have gutted a key provision of the 2010 financial reform bill and handed the big banks a horrifying holiday present.

Out of this dispiriting, lesser-of-two-evils political quagmire, one bold progressive leader has risen above the fray. She’s become a national phenomenon because she speaks plainly about the issues everyone else is too afraid to name. She hails from humble roots and comfortably acknowledges the public assistance that helped her live the American dream. By genuinely understanding the plight of working people, explaining how the system is rigged, and calling out corporate interests that rig it, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is a hero to people across the political spectrum.

As Warren’s star rises higher and higher, we in California must challenge our leaders, and ask: Where is our Elizabeth Warren?

As of now, the California Legislature doesn’t even have a progressive caucus. In this famously liberal state, is there no leader willing to cut through the doublespeak and explain the poor choices our politicians are making, often selling out the lower and middle classes for corporate benefit?

Just as few had heard of Warren in 2010 – two years before she would blow out Scott Brown to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate – perhaps there is another visionary leader in our midst who has yet to enter public life.

But one thing is for sure, if a leader does emerge in California, who can similarly articulate the plight of working families and call out corporate nonsense, she or he will be warmly received. The central political struggle of our time is not left vs. right or Democrat vs. Republican, it is corporate interests vs. human interests.

The 900,000 members of and our progressive allies are primed to rally behind such a leader. Many of the California voters who stayed home and contributed to record low turnout in November are ready, too.

We challenge one to emerge, perhaps from the current constellation of political stars that await the next big job opening. But for now, we will lead ourselves, with courage, unafraid of the Chamber of Commerce, corporate lobbyists, their dirty money and their dirty tricks. We will plainly articulate the fact that the current “California comeback” is deeply inadequate and demand the policies required to make it real.

Eddie Kurtz is executive director of the Courage Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Los Angeles.


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