New liberal challenger to Sen. Dianne Feinstein launches bid on 'The Young Turks'

A new Democratic candidate used a popular liberal news show Thursday to launch a bid to oust Dianne Feinstein, saying it’s time for California’s longtime senator to go.

“Dianne Feinstein isn’t doing it at all,” said 37-year-old Alison Hartson, the leader of a group aimed at getting money out of politics, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“We as a progressive movement, we have got to take this fight to the doorstep of Congress,” she said.

Cenk Uygur, the host of the flagship, namesake show on the online progressive media network The Young Turks, will advise Hartson’s campaign. She also has the support of Justice Democrats, a progressive political action committee that is targeting incumbent Democrats across the country.

Hartson lives in Orange County and is not well-known outside of progressive circles. She said she is hoping to capitalize on the wave of people inspired by the 2016 presidential bid of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“We have to get more progressives to help Bernie keep this fight moving forward,” Hartson said. “We get in there and begin showing people what’s possible, I guarantee you we are going to light a fire.”

Her candidacy presents an immediate challenge to Democratic state Senate leader Kevin de León, who is hoping to be the more progressive foil to the moderate-leaning Feinstein and announced he would run against the senator last month.

The progressives who were electrified by Sanders’ campaign talk about free college, healthcare for all and getting big money out of politics are frustrated enough to challenge incumbent Democrats who they say aren’t fighting hard for those issues.

As an example, Hartson pointed to Sanders’ 2015 push for a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics, which no other Democrat co-sponsored.

Some California progressives have voiced frustration with Feinstein in part because she’s not willing to offer blanket resistance to the Trump administration. Though she has staunchly opposed Trump on many issues, progressives lashed out at her in late August when Feinstein urged “patience” with Trump and said she believed he could be a good president if he learns and changes.

De León was one of Feinstein’s biggest critics following the “patience” comment. Billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer is also weighing a Senate bid in California and has urged Democrats to push for Trump’s impeachment. More than a dozen lesser-known candidates have announced they’ll challenge Feinstein too.

Hartson pledged to take donations only from individuals and to turn down corporate or political action committee donations, similar to Sanders’ policy during the 2016 election.

Refusing corporate or special interest money, especially in a contest against a senator who is known for her strong fundraising and who could self-fund the campaign if necessary, makes for an uphill battle in a state where senate campaigns can cost more than $10 million.

Hartson hopes that the affiliation with “The Young Turks,” on which Uygur often asks viewers to contribute to his causes, will help her compete and that progressives will unite to support the campaign. She’s been on the show a handful of times in the last five years but is not a regular face.

“Now that we know what we’re capable of … I am very confident that the people on the ground, the boots on the ground are going to make up for the money,” Hartson said.

To focus on the race, Hartson is stepping down as national director of WolfPAC, a nonpartisan political action committee associated with The Young Turks network that is dedicated to getting big money out of elections.

WolfPAC is working to get state government to support a ban on corporate money in elections by amending the Constitution. Five states, including California, have passed a resolution calling for a campaign finance amendment.

Hartson was a high school English teacher in Orange County when she realized the influence of money in politics was the root cause of other problems in society, she said. She volunteered for groups working on the issue and quickly rose through the ranks at WolfPAC. She organized supporters across California to push the resolution through in Sacramento in 2014 and led the effort that passed similar resolutions in three other states.

sarah.wire@latimes.com

Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter

Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics

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