Kevin de León and why there’s no script for #MeToo

Kevin de León, my current state senator, is running against incumbent Diane Feinstein for the U.S. Senate. I like him OK — he was my assembly rep for a while, and when I worked at EQCA, he was helpful in getting several bills through. He’s on the right side of history for many issues, and he’s right that Feinstein has failed to keep up with the progressive issues she once championed.

What’s the old saw? All you have to do to go from progressive to conservative is not change your opinions for 10 years?

De León supports net neutrality, worked to change sexual harassment reporting rules in the California legislature, helped expand healthcare for Californians, and many of the attacks on him from the left are unfounded, unlike Feinstein, who has supported a surveillance state, drone strikes on civilians, copyright giveaways to corporations, and who responds to constituent mail with form letters that don’t even bother to address questions or points — she is out of touch; she hasn’t wanted my vote enough to take any of my concerns seriously; you can only get elected so many times for working with Harvey Milk.

But.

When Feinstein revealed Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford’s credible accusations against now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, de León attacked her handling, calling it “gross misconduct,” additionally calling it a “failure of leadership” and demanding an inquiry into how Feinstein handled the allegation.

He’s continued to aggressively attack her on the issue, even after Blasey-Ford’s attorney backed Feinstein’s handling.

This is despite being a roadblock to sexual harassment investigations in the California legislature, as noted in the previously-linked Politico story, which also notes his longtime legislative roommate Tony Mendoza resigned over allegations of sexual harassment.

Right now, that’s a deal-breaker for me. I would rather have Feinstein’s seniority and power for California, along with her center-left record, than someone whose interest in justice for sexual assault and harassment victims seems inconsistent and inauthentic.

So when de León’s campaign called today to ask for my vote, I was honest with them about how his grandstanding and record basically moved my vote from weak support to undecided. The first volunteer, an earnest guy, responded by talking up de León’s campus sexual harassment legislation, including requiring affirmative consent.

That’s great, but it doesn’t really answer my concerns (which the volunteer agreed were legitimate). And de León wouldn’t be the first male legislator to write laws ostensibly to defend women without actually addressing their own — or their friends’ — complicity.

But what I was really trying to suss out was how people who may have been uncomfortable with de León’s approach on Blasey-Ford might still be voting for him — give me a narrative forward, basically. So I asked how volunteers had been talking about it and how it had been talked about from the campaign. The guy on the phone didn’t know, so he kicked me up to a woman he said was running the shift.

I asked her how the campaign had addressed this criticism and whether people volunteering had any concerns; she told me that de León had changed the law in Sacramento and that rooming with Mendoza didn’t undercut de León’s credibility at all. Also, she agreed that Feinstein hadn’t handled the Blasey-Ford contact in the best way. Which, sure, it wasn’t ideal, but that wasn’t what I was asking about either — I was asking about de León’s fairly aggressive attacks on Feinstein, and how, since they were roundly criticized by Democrats at all levels, the campaign had won back support from volunteers and staff that had been shaken by those attacks.

“Well, I can give you the senator’s position on that—”

“I’m not asking for the senator’s position; I can find that pretty easily by myself. I’m asking about your experience there.”

“I can’t speak for the campaign—”

“I’m not asking you to speak for the campaign. I’m asking you to speak for yourself, about your experience.”

“I can give you the senator’s response…”

I recognize that I was putting her in a difficult position: a couple days before the election, working for an underdog and long-shot candidate, asking about a real gaffe and asking her to go off-script to talk about a contentious issue. But the de León campaign had to know that they were going to get asked about this, and by declining to give me anything she was telling me both that the de León campaign didn’t have an answer or hadn’t trained their staff to answer an obvious question about their candidate’s judgment about an important issue. They also hadn’t empowered her to be able to talk honestly and authentically about something that should obviously concern her — which compounds the sense that the de León isn’t honest and authentic.

I’m just one vote, and it’s probably a better use of their time to canvass people who are more willing to just say yes. But at this point, I probably won’t be voting for him.

“Mark me down as undecided, lean-no.”

Phone canvassing is hard, and for a losing candidate even harder. But if de León wants to win, he needs to stop treating #MeToo like a buzzword and actually engage with the substance of criticism. And that means giving his staff and volunteers the tools and freedom to do that too.

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