Pitzer alum Kevin de León PZ ’03 is running for the United States Senate. The 2018 bid will pit de León, who currently serves as president pro tempore of the California State Senate, against fellow Democrat and longtime incumbent Senator Dianne Feinstein.
“The state has changed significantly over the last 25 years and we’re overdue for a real debate on the issues, priorities, and leadership that voters want from their senator,” de León told CNN Sunday.
In a campaign set to be divided along common lines in national politics – older vs. younger, centrist vs. leftist, woman vs. man – the internal politics of California will not shy away either. San Francisco vs. Los Angeles. White vs. Latinx.
Historically, de León has not tried to separate his personal story from politics. He caused a stir earlier this year when he said “half” of his family might be deported during testimony in favor of making California a sanctuary state for unauthorized immigrants.
“They got a false social security card, they got a false identification, they got a false driver’s license prior to us passing AB 60, they got a false green card,” he told the Senate’s Public Safety Committee.
“Anyone who has family members who are undocumented knows that almost entirely everybody has secured some sort of false identification.”
De León, 50, had not earned his undergraduate degree from Pitzer College by the time Feinstein, 84, won the Senate seat in 1995. His then-unplanned path into politics was not a traditional one, but one that would go on to link him to the daily struggle of many of his constituents.
De León’s mother came to the United States from Mexico. He was born when she was 26 and his father, who he only remembers meeting as a boy, was 40.
“I owe it to this single mother, this woman and millions more like her,” de León said in his campaign announcement video.
His name, in fact, does not legally have a “de” nor an accented “ó”, as The Sacramento Bee first reported. He includes them as a way to feel more in touch with his father.
The first person in his family to graduate high school and attend college, he dropped out of University of California, Santa Barbara and worked for an undocumented immigrants’ rights nonprofit in Los Angeles.
“That’s where I cut my teeth politically,” de León told LA Weekly in May. “I didn’t know how to do a press release, so I’d call the local Assembly member and say, ‘Hey, can you fax me one of your press releases?’ ‘Which one?’ ‘Any one.’ On the seat of my pants, I learned certain things. Just hustling.”
After returning to higher education and graduating from Pitzer in 2003 with a degree in the politics of education, de León would grow to see college as a crucial time in his life.
“Higher education was a life changing experience for me, and having such great professors was very transformative for me coming from a household that had no college experience,” he told TSL during a visit to Pitzer last year.