Alex Lee in many ways embodies the progressive ideals and policies Gen Z and millennial voters like himself seek in a candidate. But even in a sapphire blue district like California Assembly District 25, Democratic candidate Lee isn’t taking any chances. He’s knocking on doors in Milpitas, Fremont, and elsewhere, and has implemented an aggressive donor campaign that has outspent his Republican opponent, former Ohlone College trustee Bob Brunton, by 9 to 1.
But there’s one other ratio he’s more proud of: 15 to 1.
“Despite being outspent 15 to 1 and not taking any corporate money, we won a Democratic primary,” Lee said.
Like other progressive Democrats who have run up and down the ballot this season, Lee, 25, has rejected all corporate money in his campaign. All contributions are from individuals, with an average contribution of just over $20.
“It’s very important to me to listen to people and not these corporate special interests that cloud our progress,” said Lee.
He added, “You can imagine all the time politicians spend on the phone asking for money from all these wealthy individuals and corporations and lobbyists. If they switched that time to talking to hard-working people on Park Victoria or off of Landess, it would be totally different. And I think that’s why our campaign is different.”
Lee beat out 7 other Democrats — including 2 Milpitas city councilmembers — to nab the second spot in the March primary. In doing so, he defeated a field of older and more politically experienced Democrats with larger budgets. He is considered to be the likely winner against Brunton.
He graduated from Milpitas High School in 2013 and served as the student body president when he attended UC Davis. He also interned for former U.S. Rep. Mike Honda and then worked in the offices of state Sen. Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) and Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell).
Lee plans to focus on 6 priorities should he win: fixing the housing crisis, reinvesting in education, expanding transit options, banning corporate money in politics, fighting climate change, and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His sweeping progressive agenda includes mandated affordable housing for all new developments, ending single-family zoning, and stronger tenant protections. Lee also wants to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which prohibits rent control on single-family homes, condominiums, and new apartments and enforces “vacancy control,” which caps a unit’s rent even after a tenant moves out.
Repealing the act, tenants advocates say, will allow local governments to enforce greater rent control ordinances. He is also in favor of mandating that all new housing developers provide a certain percentage of affordable units.
“When we talk about confronting the housing crisis, it is a 3-pronged approach,” Lee said. “Producing affordable housing, preserving currently-existing affordable housing, and protecting working-class families.”
Lee is meanwhile a backer of the Green New Deal, universal healthcare, and tuition-free college for California students. In addition, he wants to see the state reinvest in public K-12 schools, more accountability for charter schools, and stronger wages for educators.
“California has disinvested in education for a very long time,” Lee said. “Instead of prioritizing economic opportunity and good education, we’re prioritizing punishing people.”
He’s also in favor of the state’s high-speed rail system proposal and expanded public transportation options.
For those concerned he might drag the state too far left, Lee said he’s found many others of like minds in the district, and he’s optimistic he has the experience to slog in the Assembly for legislation to protect the underserved.
“We all want the same things at the end of the day: clean air, clean environment, affordable housing for everyone,” said Lee. “It’s perhaps different than what some people are used to, but I think politics as usual isn’t working for Californians. And that’s what I’m going to be doing differently.”
Should Lee be elected, he will be the youngest Asian-American assemblymember in state history. He will also be the first openly bisexual legislator in the legislature. He is from the Berryessa neighborhood of San Jose.
Name: Alex Lee
Running for: State Assembly, District 25
Relevant experience: Legislative policy advisor in the state Assembly, former UC Davis student body president
Education: B.A.s in political science and communications, University of California, Davis
Priorities: Fixing the housing crisis, education reform, expanding transit, campaign finance reform, climate change
State campaign finance report: From Jan. 1 to Sept. 19, Lee raised $188,605 and spent $77,797