In summary

California’s changing demographics and vast wealth gap have inspired liberal voters to push for a more progressive U.S. senator to succeed long-serving Democrat Dianne Feinstein in 2024.

Guest Commentary written by

Joe Sanberg

Joe Sanberg

Joe Sanberg is a progressive business leader, anti-poverty advocate and founder of CalEITC4ME. He is the lead proponent of a 2024 ballot measure to raise California’s minimum wage.

It’s been more than 30 years since California voters had the opportunity to vote in a competitive race for the U.S. Senate. There’s no question in my mind: Californians will elect a true champion for working people to fill the open seat

A lot has changed since Sen. Dianne Feinstein first took office. This isn’t a 1990s, Blue Dog Democrat state anymore.

Latinos now represent the largest racial group in California. More than 10 million residents are immigrants. Instead of living out the Brady Bunch fantasy of owning a home with a green lawn and white picket fence, almost half of households are renters. The cost of living has exploded and only 17% of Californians think that young people are doing better than previous generations. 

Voters have also become laser-focused on electing leaders and advancing policies that work for working families. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders swept California during the 2020 presidential primaries; Gov. Gavin Newsom was elected on the back of a (since reneged) promise to bring single-payer healthcare to the state. Progressive activists and organizers are radically reshaping city councils and municipal elections across California, with a mission to bring unhoused people indoors, end the criminal industrial complex, transform our economy away from fossil fuels, and eschew the pay-to-play politics of the past. 

Sure, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy lives here, but even the Central Valley is trending bluer

President John Adams, one of the architects of our American political system, famously said “The Representative Assembly, should be an exact Portrait, in Miniature, of the People at large.” 

If Adams is right, it is easy to sketch out the profile of our next senator based on the priorities of the Californians they will represent. 

The next California senator should support a minimum wage of at least $20 dollars an hour. New polling from Ben Tulchin shows that a strong majority of 7 in 10 California voters support raising the minimum wage to a living wage. 

They should fight to tax extreme wealth. At a time when many Californians are working two or three jobs to feed their families, the three wealthiest people in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined. To reduce the outrageous level of inequality, California’s next senator needs to ensure that the ultra-rich pay their fair share. 

They also should not have authored or supported legislation that has grown our system of mass incarceration or increased the criminalization of poverty. They should have a plan to address police brutality. 

They should stand up to the powerful special interests that have dominated the halls of Washington D.C. for far too long, and protect the needs of our struggling working families. 

They shouldn’t take money from big corporate donors. 

Eradicating poverty and tackling our homeless crisis should be top priorities. 

So, too, should be their unequivocal commitment to a Green New Deal that helps America reach 100% renewable energy, mitigates the effects of drought and pollution in the Golden State, and ensures justice for frontline communities. 

Ultimately, California voters should elect someone who believes in economic justice – and reflects the momentum and policy priorities of progressives on the ground. 

Most importantly, they should capture the optimism of California. Residents here believe – despite the odds – that we can do better. We just need a senator that is finally willing to side with the people he or she represents. We need a senator who is prepared to put it all on the line to deliver cleaner air, affordable housing and better schools to our families – not another career politician. 

Progressive Californians are primed for this race. They are energized and organized. California deserves a senator who reflects those values, and 2024 is the year we’ll elect one. 

For the record: A previous version of this commentary mischaracterized the size of California’s Latino population.

The announcement that long-serving U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein would not seek reelection in 2024 came as little surprise to Californians. But the trailblazing figure’s departure has opened up a new debate: What type of senator should succeed her? Some say that California needs a representative similar to Feinstein who could balance fierce advocacy with an ability to work across the aisle.

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