As part of our Speaker Series on California’s Future, PPIC is inviting all major candidates in selected statewide races to participate in public conversations. The purpose is to give Californians a better understanding of how candidates would approach the challenges facing our state.
To give Californians a chance to hear directly from the two candidates for California’s US Senate seat, PPIC invited California state senator Kevin de León and US senator Dianne Feinstein to San Francisco on Wednesday to talk about their visions for California and the nation. PPIC president Mark Baldassare moderated a lively discussion that covered a range of topics.
The candidates, both Democrats, were in agreement on many state and national issues—including gun regulations, the Delta tunnel proposal, and comprehensive immigration reform. Both would support revisiting the allegations against Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, and both feel that there are Republicans in Congress who want to reach across the aisle.
But while both candidates talked about the need for universal health care, they had different views on the way to proceed. As Feinstein put it, “I believe in universal health care. The question is how we get it.” She outlined an incremental approach—offering a public insurance option, lowering the age of eligibility for Medicare to 55, and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. By contrast, de León characterized health care as a right: “I believe that health care is a human right. I believe in Medicare for all.” He also cited his leadership in creating the Covered California health care exchange, expanding access to the exchange to undocumented minors, and instituting drug price transparency in California.
The candidates’ views on health care epitomize their overall approaches to governing. For de León, the key is to bring his experience in California to Washington. Asked about the tensions between California and the federal government, he said, “California has been the leading voice for the entire nation. The world looks to California, not Washington, DC.” And he argued that Democrats in Congress need to elevate key issues, “even if we’re in the minority.” In response to a question about why he wants to be California’s US senator, de León said, “I’m running to give you a new voice, and a new approach.”
Feinstein often focused on what her years of experience in the Senate have taught her about the complexities and difficulties of governing. She reminded the audience more than once that Democrats are in the minority: “When you have both houses and the White House controlled by one party, it is extraordinarily difficult.” Explaining why she’s running in 2018, she focused on the work that needs to be done: “In terms of American public policy domestically, we can achieve a great deal . . . if we’re smart in how we go about it.”