Early voting begins this week, and Californians will again choose between two Democrats to represent them in the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein is seeking a fifth full term in the Senate. State Sen. Kevin de León is challenging her from the left.
With Feinstein leading by a large margin in most polls and with millions of dollars in the bank, the race has garnered few fireworks and little attention over the last few months, but De León is hoping a grass-roots campaign and an anti-establishment fervor in the state might help him come election day.
The Times asked each candidate to answer questions about where they stand on a variety of state and local issues. Their answers have been edited for length.
If elected, in what ways do you intend to stay connected with Californians? Will you commit to a certain number of town halls each year?
Feinstein: Staying in touch with Californians is one of the most significant parts of my job. I speak at public events up and down the state year-round, respond to tens of thousands of letters each week and host breakfasts in Washington with visiting Californians. It’s vitally important.
De León: The real work for the people of California starts in town halls, not in the halls of power. That’s why I’ll commit to regular town halls and public forums. If elected, I will spend my time at home engaging with the people of this great state so I can represent their interests more accurately in Washington, D.C.
As a U.S. senator, would you support the Delta tunnels? What other specific proposals do you have to deal with California’s water needs before the next major drought?
Feinstein: The plan is still evolving, and I will continue to review the proposal as it changes. In the meantime, I've secured more than $500 million in federal funds to invest in California’s water infrastructure. Modernizing our system is vital to cope with future droughts.
De León: I did not support the Delta Tunnel Project when it would have meant the construction of a massive infrastructure project that cuts through the Central Valley, and I am still not sure we should move forward on the project in its current form.
What changes to Social Security benefits would you support to keep the system solvent for the next 50 years?
Feinstein: The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has endorsed me for working to protect these programs, rather than cutting or privatizing them. The Republican tax cut for the wealthiest corporations and individuals should be reversed, with savings invested in these programs to ensure their stability.
De León: Social Security is a promise, and I for one, intend to keep that promise to our seniors. The bottom line is this, too many — even in our own party — are willing to sell out our seniors as part of some "grand bargain" that lets the powerful off the hook and balances the budget on the backs of our seniors.
How would you maintain clean air and energy requirements in California in excess of national standards?
Feinstein: We can’t let President Trump reverse our progress in raising fuel economy standards. I was proud to author the landmark fuel economy legislation that allowed President Obama to drastically raise [miles per gallon] requirements. That law has saved drivers nearly $60 billion and is a huge victory in our fight against climate change.
De León: I’ll take on the fossil fuel industry like I did this year when I authored and passed legislation to set California on the path to 100% clean energy. We must also curb tailpipe emissions by continuing to make zero-emission vehicles more available to all Americans, which includes expanding charging stations to under-served communities.
How will you seek to address the legal status of people brought to the country illegally as children?
Feinstein: California is home to more Dreamers than any state in the country and I won’t rest until they have a path to citizenship. I have long supported the Dream Act and was proud to write legislation to end the separation of children from their families at the border.
De León: I authored California’s “sanctuary state” law, which prevents our precious law enforcement resources from being commandeered by ICE. I support codifying the Obama executive actions known as DACA and DAPA. We must end family detention and close private immigration detention centers. I support comprehensive immigration reforms that treat every person with dignity, fix the family visa backlog and bring millions of hardworking people into the formal economy.
What is your position on California’s high-speed rail?
Feinstein: I support Gov. Brown's high-speed rail project because it will reduce traffic, air pollution and strains on our housing supply, as well as create jobs. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I secure federal dollars for California’s transit programs, including L.A.’s new Metro lines and other rail projects.
De León: While the voters did approve a high-speed rail that improves access to two of California’s most populous cities, the escalating costs associated with building the train are concerning. We should focus first on integrating public transportation systems in our local communities [that] would lay the necessary groundwork for a high-speed rail system that would then rely on existing infrastructure, instead of building the entire system from the ground up.
What is your position on repealing the increased gas tax in November?
Feinstein: I’m voting “no” on Prop. 6. We need to invest in our state’s infrastructure, not cut funding for 6,500 road-safety, bridge and other transportation projects currently underway throughout California.
De León: That historic investment in our infrastructure will make our commutes shorter and less aggravating, lower our car repair bills and create new jobs for Californians up and down the state. I will vote “no” on the gas tax repeal, and I urge all Californians to vote “no” too.
What gun control and safety efforts does Congress need to pass?
Feinstein: I authored the landmark federal assault weapons ban that reduced the frequency and deadliness of mass shooting. Reinstating it is deeply personal to me, and our current bill has 31 Democratic cosponsors. We also need to require universal background checks and take guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals.
De León: I support an assault weapons ban, expanded background checks to close the “gun-show loophole,” barring domestic abusers from buying and owning guns, harsher gun trafficking penalties, expanding funding for gun violence research, and increasing investments in community programs in areas most impacted by gun violence.
Why should conservative-leaning Californians vote for you?
Feinstein: I’ve always focused on solving California’s problems, which should be something that conservatives, liberals and all voters look for in their elected representatives. We need to fix our immigration system, create jobs, make healthcare more affordable and reduce gun violence. Those are universal priorities.
De León: If you think the status quo in Washington, D.C. is working for Americans, I recommend you vote for my opponent. I'm fighting for a better life for everyone in this state – I don't care who you supported in 2016. Whether you are a liberal or a conservative, you do deserve to make a living wage, to put a roof over your child’s head, clothes on their backs and food on the table. You deserve Medicare-for-All, not just Medicare-for-Some. You deserve a better quality of life. You deserve a dignified and secure retirement.