Kevin de León figured he would get crushed in his first election. Egged on by his friends into running for an open seat in the California State Assembly in 2006, he faced off against the granddaughter of labor icon César Chávez in a heavily Latino Central Los Angeles district. “No question about it,” he says, laughing from the passenger seat of a big black SUV weaving through brutal San Francisco rush-hour traffic. “I used to pray, ‘Lord, when I lose, just make it respectable.'” While much of America is freaking out over the new normal, de León feels like he’s been here before. As an activist in his late 20s, he organized protests against Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot measure that would have barred undocumented immigrants from public services like hospitals and schools.
To his surprise, de León won the race decisively, setting in motion a chain of events that, a decade later, has made him the state’s top legislator and its most powerful Latino politician. Today, the 50-year-old president pro tempore of the California State Senate is squarely in the driver’s seat of the West Coast’s resistance to the Trump administration. “The overall strategy is very simple and straightforward,” he says, as we make our way to the airport. (He was in town to give the keynote address at a conference on climate change.) “It is to protect our economic prosperity, our progressive values, and our people.”
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