On Wednesday, 25-year-old former aide for Senator Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) and former UC Davis student body president Alex Lee was elected to an Assembly seat in California, becoming the first Generation Z lawmaker in the state.
Lee ran for the seat in the 25th Assembly District, an Alameda and Santa Clara County District that includes the city of Santa Clara and parts of San Jose and Fremont. He will be replacing Assemblyman Kansen Chu (D-San Jose), who chose not to run this year, instead favoring a campaign for a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
Lee had defeated 7 other candidates in the March primary this year, coming into second place behind Republican Bob Brunton by only a few thousand votes.
While the district is overwhelmingly Democratic, Lee’s age came into question several times during both the primary and general campaigns. However, Lee had pushed his legislative aide and student body experience and ultimately won 73% to 27%, with Brunton getting the best Assembly result for the GOP in the 25th since 2014.
Safe to say we won!!
A landslide victory for progressive values and for our movement. I cannot express how deeply grateful I am for the volunteers, grassroots donors, and residents who came out to support our historic win. Now let's get to work & to organizing pic.twitter.com/ep6r4SGYls
— Alex Lee for State Assembly (@VoteAlexLee2020) November 5, 2020
Lee is now the youngest Assemblyman in the California since Maurice Atkinson was elected in 1939 at the age of 23, with his election heralding in a new generation of politicians.
“Generation Z has been quite liberal and is more willing than previous generations to become activists and go out and fight,” explained Santa Clara County demographics analyst Amy Wan in a Globe interview. “We’ve seen the type pop up all over the Bay, and now we have our first one in elected office here.
“He’s only 25, but he is a Democrat, Asian, and Bisexual too. And he lives at home and had to work at some delivery jobs to make ends meet while campaigning, so there’s the working class, the poor and Millennials who had to go through the same thing ten years ago understanding him as well. That’s a lot of different groups who identify with Lee.”
Lee said as much in a statement on Wednesday.
“All of this combined will make me an effective advocate,” explained Lee. “This isn’t abstract for me. I don’t have to try to understand what it’s like for people who struggle to pay their bills or with housing insecurity, that’s something I live with. In my community, I can only afford to live at home with my family. Like a lot of people, they have to live with their parents because that’s the only financially feasible option. That’s why housing affordability is important to me.”
Questions over ability despite a landslide victory
However, many, both Democrats and Republicans alike, have charged that Lee isn’t ready for such a position.
“People complained when AOC won in New York at the age of 29, but she had been a community activist for years and knew the area. Regardless of her politics, it’s a very good way to know the people and problems,” explained Washington-based election analyst Charles Reid, who specializes in West Coast races, to the Globe. “I noticed Lee earlier this year, not just because of his age, but because I wanted to see how he would try and do things differently.
“It doesn’t look like different. He’s going after companies and corporations in elections more it looks like, but if you look at his platform, it looks like the California Democrat gold standard. Nothing really new. And that can be a big issue. Each generation brings forward new issues, but he is still following the lead of Millennials and the Bernie Sanders-style candidates, especially on political corporate influence.
“And that shows that he isn’t ready just yet. He’s not bringing anything new, and only knowing politics by working in Sacramento, and if you want to count it, by leading students at Davis.
“He’s one of the state-level politicians to watch now in California, partially because of our first glimpse at seeing a Generation Z politician, but also because there is a good chance he’s going to find that, despite having working for lawmakers in Sacramento before, being an Assemblyman isn’t all that easy.
“Many also voted for him because he was the only Democrat on the ticket. Voting based on party over issues always carries some risk, and we’ll see just how much there actually is very soon.”
Lee has been celebrating his victory since Wednesday, and has said that one of his first bills in the Assembly will be one that will fight against corporate influence on elections, with his recent App-based delivery work and the passage of Prop 22 solidifying his opinion of companies backing propositions.
“One of my first bills will be to eliminate or limit special interest and corporate money in state elections,” explained Lee on Wednesday. “It’s polluting our democracy. Proposition 22 has shown us how dangerous it is to allow multibillion dollar corporations to buy out sections of the law.”
Lee and other first time winners elected in Tuesday night are expected to be sworn into the Assembly soon, in time for the next session.