Author: Joe Brizzolara / June 3, 2018
This past Monday, Lincoln Park was alive with people. It was memorial day and families and friends gathered to enjoy a warm day in the park. The sounds of kids playing and the smells of meat grilling were ubiquitous. Under some trees and a canopy along Valley Blvd though, a different sort of socializing was going on.
Vegan enchiladas were being served and hacky sack was being played. But along with the normal small talk of a day in the park, serious political discussion was underway on everything from housing reform to drug legalization to healthcare. This is a candidate meet and greet, green party style.
The candidate is Kenneth Mejia. While usually donning a sharp suit (sometimes with a green bow tie) for interviews and appearances, today Mejia is dressed casual: sunglasses, shorts, and a green baseball cap that reads “Mark America Think Again”.
He’s been getting attention on Left media, such as an interview endorsing him on the Huffington Post and interviews with The Young Turks and Jimmy Dore. Cenk Uygur, drawing a pun from Mejia’s previous employer Ernst & Young, called him “Earnest and Young”. The description fits.
If elected, Mejia will be 27 when he enters office. He says that he was inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign to leave a six-figure job in financial services to get into politics and fight for social justice issues.
“[The green party] is essentially the most progressive party, [taking stances] that Bernie was fighting for X100,” says Mejia.
“Single-payer healthcare. Tuition free college. Cancelling student debt. 100% clean and renewable energy.”
Mejia, along with Libertarian Angela McArdle, is running against incumbent Jimmy Gomez. Gomez first got the seat after then congressman Xavier Becerra stepped down to replace Kamala Harris who left the post when she was elected to the U.S. Senate. Gomez then won out a crowded field in a special election that included Mejia who was, at that point, running as a write-in Democrat.
If Gomez is unable to garner at least 51% of the vote then the top two vote earners will go into a run-off election in November.
Mejia is positive about his chances and excited to be talking about ideas that many established Democrats are not. The district is solidly blue, with only about 9% of the district registering Republican, according to the most recent data provided by the California Secretary of State. This is still significantly higher than Green registration which was around .6%. The last time a Republican was elected in this district was 1980. How does Mejia go about introducing the Green Party to stalwart Democrats?
“I think it’s a matter of people knowing that there are options. A lot of people [in this district] are working class people. 1 out of 4 people live in poverty in this district. They don’t know about 3rd parties. Democrats good. Republicans bad. We’re gonna keep hitting [Democrats] on the issues.”
While most of his messaging is positive, Mejia does point out that Gomez has some unsavory bedfellows, such as pharmaceutical companies, in the way of campaign contributions.
Mejia doesn’t think that Jimmy Gomez is a bad guy, and he votes the right way for the most part. But he questions whether the interests of his constituents will trump his financial backers, especially when it comes to controversial issues like single-payer healthcare. Mejia often notes that almost all his donations come from small donors.
He doesn’t have an exact plan for how single-payer (which would eliminate all insurance companies) would be implemented but he supports any measure (such as California’s SB 562) which would push it closer to reality. He does have a clear answer for why it failed though.
“If you think about it, we’re supposed to be leading the way. We have a blue everything. Why didn’t we pass [SB 562]?” questions Mejia.
“The reason why is because health insurance companies and big pharma have a stranglehold on government.”
Men and women of all ethnicities and varying backgrounds, college educated and not, make up Mejia’s grassroots team.
Ana Antuna is a 19 year old student activist and resident of Los Angeles. She saw Mejia speak at a pro-DACA rally in October of 2017. After signing receiving a voicemail from Mejia himself, she began volunteering in February of this year.
“I thought wow this guy is really committed,” remembers Ana. “I never had a candidate personally call my phone number and invite me to one of their meetings.”
“Green candidates run grassroots campaigns and accept no corporate money.”
She cites immigration reform and rent control as her most important political causes.
Nathan Duran is also a student volunteer. He canvases in City Terrace and has found support for Mejia’s message in all age groups, but especially young people. He was a Bernie Sanders supporter and became disillusioned with the Democrat Party after the 2016 primary. He cites affordable housing and healthcare as two of his most important issues.
Mateo Nagassi is a homeless advocate and citizen journalist. He became politically active for the first time after the 2016 election. He cites mass incarceration as one of his primary causes, having two brothers that are in prison. His activism has bled into all facets of his life. He works in television and is now focused on generating socially aware content.
“Now, I guess you could say, I’ve become woke.”
While only having lived in the district for 4 years, Mejia says he began working in District 34 back in 2010. He is a member of the L.A. Tenants Union and a board member of the Wilshire — Neighborhood Council. While the power of neighborhood councils is largely representational (“a liaison between the community and the city”), Mejia touts their endorsement of the repeal of Costa-Hawkins. Costa-Hawkins is a state law that limits local governments’ ability to institute rent control. He believes rent control is necessary to protect low-income families from being displaced by dramatic rent increases. Along with Rent Control, Mejia supports large investments in new public housing.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 5th. Congressional District 34 includes the following neighborhoods: Boyle Heights, Chinatown, City Terrace, Cypress Park, Downtown Los Angeles, Eagle Rock, El Sereno, Garvanza, Glassell Park, Highland Park, Koreatown, Little Bangladesh, Little Tokyo, Lincoln Heights, Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills, Mount Washington, and Westlake. You can find your polling place at VotersChoice.sos.ca.gov.