‘Progressive no matter what’: Barbara Lee, Laura Wells vie for 13th congressional district seat

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While the colors of U.S. politics are traditionally portrayed as blue and red, the November ballot for California’s 13th congressional district seat will show a different color palette.

East Bay voters must choose between blue and green, as the ballot lists both incumbent Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Green Party activist Laura Wells. Both candidates’ platforms include education reform, health care accessibility and addressing class inequality.

“You’re going to get a progressive no matter what,” Wells said. “There’s no going wrong in voting Laura Wells. The benefit in voting for me is saying that you’re sick of the status quo.”

Though Wells said she believes that Lee, as an incumbent, has a very high chance of winning the election, Wells hopes that the Green Party can make a name for itself by being represented on the November ballot.

Wells, who was a write-in candidate in the June primary election, has worked at various nonprofit organizations, such as the Women’s Economic Agenda Project and Pesticide Action Network. Wells has also been a political activist with the Green Party ever since it became ballot-qualified in 1992.

As a strong supporter of progressive issues, Wells emphasized that, if elected, she would raise expectations for what the government should provide to its citizens. She said she hopes to provide free health care, free university tuition and affordable housing to her constituents.

“The two-party system has failed us,” Wells said. “There are three Greens on the November ballot in California. … The three of us running has been a good thing for building an alternative.”

Lee has been in the House of Representatives since she was elected in 1998. In the past 20 years, she has joined several committees in the House of Representatives, including the House Appropriations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She also is a senior Democratic whip, and she used to be chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

One of Lee’s major platforms is improving the quality and accessibility of health care, an emphasis that stems from her background in clinical psychology, which she studied at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare.

Lee’s campaign website also states that she is in support of a public, single-payer health care system, in which every citizen is insured by the government. As a congressional representative, Lee has created three bills related to HIV/AIDS prevention, which were signed into law. One of the bills created a $15 billion fund to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Cal Berkeley Democrats, the largest campus chapter of the California College Democrats, has endorsed Lee for re-election, according to club president Varsha Sarveshwar — Sarveshwar, however, said she was unaware that Wells was running for the seat as well. Berkeley College Republicans is not endorsing anyone for this race, according to the club’s president, Matt Ronnau.

“Congresswoman Lee has been an incredible progressive champion in Congress, which is strongly needed in this time, so we are strong supporters of her,” Sarveshwar said. “She’s someone who stands up for economic justice and racial justice, and those are important fights all the time. It’s really critical to have someone who’s fighting really hard for them.”

In addition to running for re-election, Lee announced in July that she is also running to be the House Democratic Caucus chair. If elected, Lee would be the first Black woman to chair the Democratic caucus.

“Whether it’s working across the aisle to enact HIV/AIDS laws, or bringing the Sanders and Clinton campaigns together behind a cohesive and progressive Democratic Platform, my career has been dedicated to finding common ground and delivering results,” Lee said in a July 23 letter.

The 13th congressional district includes Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda, Albany, Emeryville, Piedmont and San Leandro. The election will be held Nov. 6.

Contact Malini Ramaiyer at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @malinisramaiyer.