The great seal of the state of California

Leading Democrats Make Their Case for California Senate Seat

The great seal of the state of California

Three Democrats running for Senate in California — Reps. Barbara Lee of Oakland, Katie Porter of Irvine and Adam Schiff of Burbank — spoke in a candidates’ forum on Feb. 8.  (Image courtesy of the state of California via Bay City News)

By Samantha Kennedy

Over 20 candidates are running to fill California’s U.S. Senate seat that was held by Sen. Dianne Feinstein for over 30 years before her death last year. Three of the leading Democratic candidates — Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee — joined Ethnic Media Services and California Black Media on Thursday to discuss representation for Black women, the recently blocked border bill and healthcare.

Two notable names weren’t at the forum: Sen. Laphonza Butler, who was appointed to the seat after Feinstein’s death but chose not to run, and Republican candidate Steve Garvey, who was invited but did not attend.

Representing Black Women

Candidates were asked to consider how they would represent Black women in the U.S. Senate, where Butler is the only Black woman seated out of 100. Moderator Tanu Henry of California Black Media noted how loyal Black women are when voting — over 90% of those who cast ballots have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in the last four elections. 

All three stressed the importance of representing Black women and other people of color.

Lee would be just the fourth Black woman in the Senate’s history and said her identity would not just inform her stances on racial justice but also on economic and climate justice.

“A Black woman’s perspective on every single issue is very important,” Lee, D-Oakland, said Thursday. Having a Black woman’s perspective in the Senate, Lee said, can only strengthen California and the country.

Lee, for example, reintroduced a bill with others last month that would increase federal taxes for companies that have “huge gaps” in pay between CEOs and median worker pay to “rein in corporate greed.”

>>>Read: Corporations Are Using Inflation to Pad Profits, Economist Says

Porter, D-Irvine, said the next senator “needs to be a champion for communities of color, particularly for Black Americans.”

Black Americans are more likely to be exposed to air pollution at home and have worse health outcomes than white Americans. To address these disparities, Porter said the pharmaceutical industry and oil companies need to be held accountable for the damage they do.

>>>Read: Richmond’s Most Vulnerable Can’t Escape Dangerous Air

Schiff, D-Burbank, recalled his experience on the House Intelligence Committee, where he pushed to increase diversity on the committee made up mostly of representatives who were white and male. If elected, Schiff said he would elevate “people of color to positions of responsibility,” such as during Cabinet or judicial appointments. Like Lee and Porter, going after environmental injustices that disproportionately impact people of color is something Schiff says needs to be addressed.


After California Sen. Alex Padilla called a recent border security package that included funding for Israel and Ukraine “a new version of a failed Trump-era immigration policy that will cause more chaos at the border” and voted against it, all three Senate candidates said they would have voted the same.

Schiff said he was clear in his disagreement with President Joe Biden, who supported the agreement and urged Congress to pass it in a statement. Combining emergency foreign aid with immigration and border provisions meant Biden “could essentially be extorted” by foreign aid for domestic policies.

Negotiations for the agreement did not include any Democrats from border states, Black or Brown Congress members or a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which Schiff and Lee — who has lived in an immigrant community — said needed to be included.

The three also agreed that immigration policies in the agreement needed to be more comprehensive, such as in pathways to citizenship.


All three candidates showed support for single-payer healthcare that includes undocumented immigrants. And, in previous forums during their campaigns, all have continued to support Medicare for All.

Lee has a long history of supporting single-payer healthcare. She co-authored one of the first bills in California for single-payer healthcare and has co-sponsored all Medicare for All legislation in the California state Legislature for over 20 years. On Thursday, she said undocumented workers “deserve to be treated in a humane way,” which includes having access to healthcare.

>>>Read: Medi-Cal Expanded to All Undocumented Californians, but Income Limits Leave Many Out

Porter said she has “never wavered” in supporting Medicare for All, according to her website, and has advocated for mental health services.

In fact, her advocacy for mental health has made its way into public safety legislation. Porter reintroduced the Mental Health Justice Act in November that would allow state, tribal and other jurisdictions to train and use mental health professionals instead of officers in mental health emergencies. Lee and Schiff cosponsored that bill.

Schiff called healthcare a human right, saying that all families should have equitable access to healthcare. Last May, Schiff introduced a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on race, religion and “other characteristics” in healthcare. Lee and 20 others cosponsored the bill.

The two candidates with the most votes at the March 5 primary will be put on the ballot for the general election in November. That winner will succeed Butler.

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