HIGHLAND PARK — U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, and a group of Latino journalists from around Los Angeles, gathered at a bakery in Highland Park last Saturday to talk about her run for the California senate seat last held by the late Sen. Diane Fienstein. 

Lee spoke to journalists at Delicia’s Bakery and Some and briefly answered some questions. Also in attendance were Los Angeles City Councilmembers Hugo Soto Martinez and Eunises Hernandez, who pledged to advocate for Lee in the race. 

Lee is just one of many candidates running in California’s nonpartisan open-primary. A recent poll of California voters conducted by UC Berkeley and The Los Angeles Times puts Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) in the lead with 17%, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Glendale) at 16%, former baseball player Republican Steve Garvey at 10%, Lee at 9%, and Republican James Bradley at 7%. 

The primary election will be held March 5. All candidates, Republicans and Democrats, will appear on the same ballot — the top two candidates will proceed to the general election in November. 

Lee talked to assembled journalists, including LA Public Press, about housing, her call for a ceasefire in Gaza, and a variety of other issues.

The following interview has been edited lightly for context and clarity, questions came from LAPP staff and other journalists.

Why do you think you are the only candidate running to represent California in the Senate to support a ceasefire in Gaza?

I would talk to the other candidates about their own rationale, which I respect but I have worked for many, many years on national security issues and foreign policy issues.

…I don’t want anyone to conflate my support, and calling for a ceasefire, as not condemning Hamas in a terrorist attack. I’ve been to the region many, many times — I understand the security issues. And I understand also that what is taking place now, is counterproductive to Israel security, first of all.

Secondly, I do know that, unfortunately, with so many civilians being killed, and without a strategic targeting for Hamas, that the anger and the path to peace and to a diplomatic solution — which is ultimately hopefully where we go or where the region goes — because the Palestinians deserve the state, and the Israelis deserve to be able to live in peace and security side by side; I don’t want what takes place now in terms of the horrific slaughter to diminish that possibility.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (center) speaks about her Senate run, with LA councilmembers Eunisses Hernandez (left) and Hugo Soto-Martinez (Right). (A.F. Baumann / LAPP)
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (center) speaks about her Senate run, with LA councilmembers Eunisses Hernandez (left) and Hugo Soto-Martinez (Right). (A.F. Baumann / LAPP)

How might you might address LA’s housing issues in the Senate? And what could you do in the Senate that you could not do in the House.

First, a lot of it has to do with budget priorities and the politics of Washington, DC, because we have been fighting for increasing public housing, Section 8, all of the housing initiatives that are already in place, we have to have more budget priorities that really reflect housing in the Senate.

Being one of 100 gives you a big megaphone, able to organize around the country, especially in California, when we are fighting for housing investments. And there are only two or three of us, I think it’s, again, as a as an African-American woman, and someone who represents a multiracial state with large percentages of Latinos, who need housing, health care, all these issues, it’s important to see me as somebody who’s going to use my leverage, and use my organizing ability and use my ability to work with Republicans, which I have done, and you can see my record, to be able to get the job done. And no one says it’s going to be easy. But I think that I have a background of being able to work with other members of different parties to do that.

I introduced the Renters Bill of Rights, for example. I want to establish a national housing rent control policy. So they’re big, bold ideas — that and solutions that we have. But we have to have the political will to do that. And we have to end the filibuster.

Can you elaborate on how the federal government can bring money to LA, and specifically build more public housing?

We have to say to, in no uncertain terms to the Pentagon, and where the investments are, where our resources are, that we’re going to have to reshuffle our priorities and get those money because part of the problem with all of these issues, is that what where’s the money going to come from? Where are the funds, where are the tax dollars? Well, the tax dollars are there.

And so you have to see this at a macro level that I’m going to continue to fight to reduce the Pentagon budget, which I’m doing…

…If you see what happened on 60 minutes … where billions of dollars have been scammed by weapons dealers in the United States. And it was myself working with Republicans that required the Pentagon to come back in 90 days and tell us how they’re going to claw back that money. So that’s the big picture getting the Senate, especially to understand: we need to reprioritize tax dollars, but we have to have policies that are going to support local efforts, because the federal HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development] is our major entity and waiting lists for a Section 8 program, are what, five years?

Transit villages are important here … In my district in Oakland, I was the champion of the Fruitvale Transit Village, right in the middle of the Latino community … HUD needs to invest more into transit villages. And we know how to do this, but it’s getting the political will.

Mariah is a journalist who can be found at one of LA's many libraries, and supporting local musicians and street vendors.