On September 14th, 2001, three days after the 9/11 terror attacks, Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee was the lone no vote on the authorization of war.
“September 11th changed the world,” Lee said on the House floor prior to the vote. “Our deepest fears now haunt us. Yet, I am convinced military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
Lee was mocked, ridiculed and threatened for her vote at the time, but now more than 20 years later the once infamous vote by Lee is one she’s praised for.
The congresswoman says that decision to stand up when no one else did, along with others during her years in Congress, is what sets her apart in California’s competitive U.S. Senate race.
“But when you look at leadership and what I stepped out on and others have followed, I think that is a big distinguishing factor,” Lee said. “No one led on the global HIV pandemic. I went to President [George W.] Bush, I opposed every one of his policies, but when it came to saving lives I thought he could help. He did and we saved 25 million lives.”
More recently, Lee has also been a leader in marijuana law reform.
“No one was talking about legalization for marijuana,” Lee said. “It’s a criminal justice issue. When you look at Black and brown people being disproportionately incarcerated behind marijuana charges— I stepped up and I put forth the Marijuana Justice Act.”
The 77-year-old said she was also proud of the work she’s done in her district, such as the Barbara Lee Health and Wellness Center, a facility owned by the San Leandro Unified School District that offers health, dental, and mental wellness services free of charge to students and families.
“So many young people don’t have access to healthcare and mental healthcare,” Lee said. “… The development of one’s self-image requires to be felt that they are valued and this center makes sure all young people, regardless of who they are or their background, they are valued.”
Equity and representation are key components of Lee’s campaign. Currently, there is only one Black woman in the U.S. Senate and it’s the same seat Lee is running for.
The woman who holds that seat, Laphonza Butler, was appointed by Governor Newsom in October following Dianne Feinstein’s passing and is not running for a full term.
“It’s time,” Lee said. “The strength, the perspective, the understanding. The strength of Black women is missing and has been missing and will be missing.”
“And that’s a big difference about the lens that I bring,” Lee said. “I’ve lived a life that so many in California have lived, being a former welfare recipient, living paycheck to paycheck, raising two small kids without money for childcare.”
Lee has consistently polled in third among her fellow Democratic colleagues Congressman Adam Schiff and Congresswoman Katie Porter. And in the most recent Inside California Politics/Emerson College Poll, Lee came in 4th behind former LA Dodgers great Steve Garvey.
Lee has also struggled to keep up with Schiff and Porter on the fundraising front but she says it’s not a fair assessment of her campaign.
“Don’t compare me to Adam Schiff and Katie Porter,” Lee said. “I am a Black woman, a progressive Black woman, so I have to do this differently. Look at Mayor (Karen) Bass— $9 million. Her opponent, Mr. Caruso — $100 million. Guess who’s Mayor of Los Angeles?”
Nexstar is following candidates to see what it is like to balance work and family during the U.S. Senate campaign. While there are some policy discussions in the story, the project is intended to capture glimpses of what you don’t see in traditional campaign coverage. All candidates received the request to participate at the same time. Candid coverage is being published as candidates make themselves available. In order to qualify, candidates must have polled above 5% in the most recent Nexstar poll. Look for features on additional Senate candidates in the coming days and weeks.