‘Abolish it altogether’: California State Senator Kevin de León calls for lower tuition

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California State Senator Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, spoke with UC Berkeley students at a meet-and-greet Tuesday evening hosted by the Cal Berkeley Democrats.

The senator spoke about university funding and praised the UC system’s diversity and high-caliber students, calling it “one of the best university systems” in the world.

The senator pledged his support for increased university funding, calling state funding an investment in California students. He also called for lower tuition costs for students or to “abolish it altogether.”

“Life is paying for your rent,” de León said. “Life is paying for your meals. The issue of life and having the means of paying for it is what’s forcing people to not attend four-year universities. … I don’t think you can balance the budget on the backs of students.”

Currently the president pro tem, or leader, of the California State Senate, de León is running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. Before being elected to the state Senate in 2010, de León was a state Assembly member for four years. He has been vocal in a number of political realms, including environmental issues, immigrant protection and infrastructure reform.

De León thanked Cal Dems for their early endorsement and described his invitation to speak on campus as completing a “full circle” — one that began when he was rejected from UC Berkeley as an undergraduate.

Cal Dems has previously hosted other speakers, including former California superintendent of public instruction Delaine Eastin, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and California Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, according to Cal Dems Development Director Varsha Sarveshwar.

Although the discussion topics ranged from government surveillance to the North Korean crisis, de León was able to answer the majority of the questions with some element of humor. While de León described the state of our nation as a “dangerous” place right now, he emphasized the importance of getting involved.

“What I tell folks, whether you’re younger, or older or between: I understand, maybe you don’t like politics — sometimes I don’t like politics,” de León said. “But if you don’t get involved with politics, politics will get involved with you.”

Before de León began speaking, there was a buzz of excitement among the students present — after the Q&A session, most students took the opportunity to introduce themselves to the state senator, with some asking for autographs.

Campus sophomore Cynthia Reznik described de León’s presentation as earnest, with a clear love for California. Fellow sophomore Uthara Vengrai was similarly impressed by de León’s presentation and his direct answers to questions.

“I can speak for all of Cal Dems that he’s a progressive leader,” said Timothy Etter, a freshman political science student, who said he was a member of Cal Dems. “With the work he’s done in the California Senate, it’s very clear that he’s fighting for real progressive change that actually has an impact on people’s lives — it’s not symbolic.”

Contact Alexandra Stassinopoulos at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AE_Stass.