State Senate President pro tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) paid a visit to Vincenzo’s Pizzeria in Newhall on Saturday to gauge and assess the opinion of Santa Clarita voters on a myriad of issues as he begins his campaign for the United States Senate.
De León, who is running against longtime Democratic Party incumbent Dianne Feinstein, spoke with roughly 75 Santa Clarita residents on issues such as environmental policy, student loan debt and immigration reform legislation.
The goal, he said, was to understand where the Santa Clarita Valley stood on these issues and to calibrate the direction of his campaign accordingly.
De León arrived just before noon, shaking hands, posing for photos and grabbing a few bites of pizza before taking the stage. Vincenzo’s in Newhall, he said, was his third stop of the day after a morning spent campaigning in West Los Angeles and Palmdale.
He began his speech by addressing the inflammatory comments made by President Donald Trump on Thursday about Haiti, which the president referred to as a “s**thole country.”
“Bring me your smartest, bring me your whitest people — that’s not what America is all about,” said de León, the son of a Guatemalan immigrant. “My mom, through her hard labor, like many other immigrants of this country, contributed to making this country great.”
Much of the initial half of de León’s speech was centered around the policy and demeanor of the president.
“I can tell you this, on November 8 and surely on November 9, the day after the election of 2016, I, frankly, when the dust settled, never felt prouder to be a Californian,” de León said. “Because although then-candidate Trump won the presidency through the electoral college, a very antiquated and Hamiltonian system, by a margin of 2-1, Californians rejected the politics fueled by resentment, by bigotry and by misogyny.”
“This is a time for change, a time for a new direction, a time to usher in a new leadership.”
De León then opened up the floor for a question-and-answer session.
A common concern among Santa Clarita residents was the environment, which de León assured them would be a major cornerstone of his campaign platform.
Another woman, a local special education teacher concerned with funding reforms proposed by United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, questioned de Leon about his stance on the funding of public special education programs.
“I do not support in any form, way or shape any type of schemes that take taxpayer dollars that fund our current public system to aid and voucherize nonpublic schools,” he responded. “Santa Clarita’s the best place (for special education), hands down.”
Tempers suddenly flared one Santa Clarita resident Len Unkless began to disrupt the speech with an outburst.
“Kevin Alexander de León,” he yelled from a back corner of the room, “you are a phony, disingenuous liar and everyone of you participants in this room is going down in flames.”
Unkless’ remarks were met with a volley of counterattacks, much of the crowd now on its feet.
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De León continued to take questions, and soon left the stage to mingle with the crowd.
The incumbent, Feinstein, has been in the Senate since 1992, and is currently the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee. She is perhaps best known for having authored the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which stood as law from 1994 to 2004.
In an interview with The Signal, however, de Leon said he believes he can win the Senate seat in part by campaigning in cities like Santa Clarita.
“I’m running for the U.S. Senate, and it’s important for me not just to focus on large urban areas like Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area, but other parts of the state of California, like Santa Clarita, Valencia, Castaic, the High Desert,” he said.
De León believes that with more registered Democrats than Republicans within the valley, he has the ability to instill a political shift in the traditionally conservative stronghold.
“Hopefully,” he said, “my message can resonate with working class Santa Claritans that we have an opportunity for change, an opportunity to move forward with new energy and new ideas.”