California Assemblymember Alex Lee entered office late last year with a splash.
At 25 years old, he’s the youngest state lawmaker elected to office in over 80 years. Shortly after being sworn in, he introduced a slew of ambitious proposals that would test California’s reputation as a spearhead of progressive policy.
The young lawmaker — who earned the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — authored bills this session to implement a single-payer health care system, ban political contributions from corporations and levy a wealth tax on the richest Californians.
All three proposals, however, stalled in recent days. Some failed to get the necessary committee votes, and others were never called up for a hearing.
But Lee said he’s undeterred, and anticipates the proposals will come back in a new form next session.
On his reaction the bills stalling
I ran for office despite thinking all the odds are stacked against me because I knew the fight was right. We had to make progress for the people of California. And I have continued that philosophy going into office that we must engage in the fights that are necessary to move the needle forward, to move the Overton Window and to move us forward, no matter how frustrating, because I did not come to Sacramento to bet on the easy winning subjects and make incremental change. We need systemic wholesale change. And that's why we do it.
With Assembly Bill 20, which stalled on Thursday ... It was incredibly disappointing to hear a lot of people who obviously know how broken our campaign finance system is and an election system is, but yet refused to take a vote on the issue.
On why he believes California needs policies like a wealth tax and single payer health care
The very simple answer would be the people of California, by and large, are progressive. Its government is not so comfortable with that. ... Obviously, our broken campaign finance system is one of the reasons for that. But even back in, I would say January, when we did polling for the wealth tax, 67% of respondents in that poll said they would support a wealth tax. And that's not just people on the left spectrum or something, it's people of all political persuasions and demographics because genuinely everyday people, 99% in California want what's best for our community. They don't want to be courting big, powerful special interests. And for too long, government is about scratching the back of powerful special interests that perpetuate power, and that is an oligarchy, that is not a democracy.
On his message to lawmakers who took issue with how he approached advocating for these issues
My message is, as I said in committee, I am committed to a wholesale rebuilding of our campaign finance system, whether it be public financing, disclosure laws or really vastly limiting the influence of big corporate special interest money and I openly welcome working with them … The usual process in Sacramento is if there's problems with the bill, the committee works with you to try to iron them out because they want the bill to be [in the] best form when it leaves a committee, or a salvageable form. This was not the case in this committee. They were opposed to the bill from the first day that I I talked to Assemblymember [Marc] Berman on it. And we had a mutual understanding of that. And we did try to work on it, we tried to talk with them about it and see where we can change. But look, I'm open to all the change, open to feedback, but my fellow lawmakers have to have the courage to dare to try things then, make themselves uncomfortable. If we are really to rebuild a system that is very, very broken, we have to start somewhere.
On what's next for the three bills
Single payer health care, universal health care, definitely will come back in January. The wealth tax is still a work in progress right now. There was this series of committee hearings in April, we did not make it into. But since it fundamentally is going to be a constitutional amendment and must go to the vote of the people anyways, our timeline is all different, but it's still a work in progress. It's not dead by any means. And AB 20, the banning corporate money or just campaign finance reform altogether, will come back. It will come back stronger and we'll come back better, but is not an issue I'm giving up on.
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