Bernie-backed Candidate Jovanka Beckles Talks About Her Race Against “the Bernie Slayer”
We spoke with community leader, Democratic Socialist, and Bernie-endorsed candidate, Jovanka Beckles, about her long history of progressive victories in the Bay Area and the stark differences between her and her opponent’s platforms, funding sources, and connections to their community. Beckles is running in the Assembly District 15 election to represent Berkeley, North Oakland, and Richmond, California.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
MFU: Your biggest opponent in this race, Buffy Wicks, is the former state director of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and was referred to by fellow campaign staff as “Buffy the Bernie slayer.” Yet your district went to Bernie Sanders in the primary. Would you say that your platform speaks to the needs of the residents more?
JB: Absolutely. My platform speaks more to the residents because in essence my opponent is catering to the very rich, the wealthy, the billionaire class. Her platform basically caters to developers, those who want to privatize our school system, those who want to destroy unions, and my platform speaks to working people. I’m a member of Teamsters 856, so I’m a union member. And it really is time that we have working people at the table. It’s time that we as working people have power. The power to enact policy that benefits us — policies like single-payer health care-for-all, policies like tuition-free college, policies like my housing-for-all program that would build hundreds of thousands of new affordable housing units in the next ten years, policies that protect our planet and our students and teachers. And so this platform, this movement that I’m apart of, really our values resonate most with the working class.
MFU: Can you also talk about the contrast between you and your opponent in terms of your connections to the Bay Area?
JB: I’ve lived in the Bay Area for thirty years. I moved here from Florida once I graduated from Florida A&M University and I’ve been here ever since. My opponent has only been seen in the Bay Area for the last two years, and during that time it’s only been to campaign. I’ve been working here. I’ve been walking the picket lines with my union sisters and brothers. I’ve been protesting environmental injustice. I’ve been protesting so much injustice — right here in the Bay Area. And so really that’s the contrast that we have. I recognize that she often talks about having roots here because she was born two hours away, and has done some organizing work, but I’ve been living and working and paying taxes right here in AD 15 for the last thirty years.
MFU: Can you talk about your work with Richmond Progressive Alliance and other progressive victories you’ve been involved in?
JB: The victories that we’ve had here in Richmond were in collaboration with other working people and a diverse group of activists. We have together been able to raise the minimum wage here in Richmond, we’ve been able to ban the box — that question that asks whether or not someone’s been incarcerated or not, whether or not someone’s been convicted of a felony — in order to give people a second chance at life, a second chance in their home, a second chance to build a life that really is one with dignity. We’ve also together with community members built more affordable housing in our city. We’ve saved our public schools. We’ve funded our public schools. And the Richmond Progressive Alliance, as I said earlier, is a collaboration of working people of different backgrounds, ethnicity, age, as well as political affiliation, because we recognize that when we fight each other based on political affiliation, that the only ones who benefit from that is not us, it’s actually the billionaire class. And we recognize that that really is what the fight is about. When we come together as a movement of working people we can actually have the resources and the policies that we need to increase the quality of life for us, because we as working people created this wealth that we’re seeing, and we deserve to share in that wealth.
MFU: Can you talk a little about the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s fight against Chevron?
JB: Yes. Richmond was known as a company town for a long time. Chevron actually had a desk at City Hall. And I would encourage your viewers to check out a book by Steve Early called Refinery Town — it’s about how we as a small town, as people, took back our power, our government, from this corporation that elected the majority of city councilmembers over the course of years. Together, as working people, we came together with the Richmond Progressive Alliance, and we started electing corporate-free candidates that took no money from that corporation, or developers, or charter schools, and we in essence took our government back, because it was a message and it was a value that resonated with the majority of people in Richmond. And together we have held that company accountable. We now have councilmembers — a majority, five out of seven — who are putting the needs of people above the profit of not just this corporation, but so many other corporations, and we have held them accountable to paying their fair share of taxes. We ensured that the projects they wanted to build came with community benefits, and as a result of holding them accountable and having the resources that we need, we now have a grant program that provides a scholarship to every single high school graduate in Richmond. And that is something that we’re really proud of because it shows that when working people come together as a movement, we can take back our government and ensure that these billion-dollar corporations pay their fair share of taxes.
MFU: Speaking of corporate-free candidates, you do not take any corporate PAC money but your opponent does, and nearly forty-percent of her funding is coming from out-of-state donors. Can you speak to how this influences each of your abilities to serve Bay Area residents?
JB: We’ve seen it, we’ve seen how corporate influence — whether it be through dark money or direct contributions — affects how people govern, and how it affects what we — the rest of us — are able to get. We were both on a show of KQED recently and there was a very simple question and that question had to do with supporting drilling. My answer is no, I do not. She really waffled on answering that question because that’s what happens when you have candidates, elected officials, benefiting from independent expenditures. We see that they are not going to be working for us. My opponent in this race has benefited from over a million dollars of independent expenditures from the very companies that want to destroy our public schools, who want to privatize our schools and our prisons, who want to destroy unions. I have a proven track record. I have a voting record, because I have been an elected official, of how I will vote, and I always stand up on behalf of the people.
MFU: Another issue important to Bay Area residents is housing — is she also accepting money from real estate developers?
JB: Absolutely. You know, that’s the thing, she does not support Prop 10 [rent control policy]. I am an advocate, a champion for affordable housing, and so I support Prop 10. We’re in a crisis where working people working forty hours a week are homeless, living in cars. I believe that the way out of this crisis is we have to build more affordable housing, but what we can do right away is we can pass Prop 10. So she does not support Prop 10, although again, if you listen to her, you would think that she does support the building of affordable housing. The majority of what she’s talking about is helping for-profit luxury developers to be able to build without restriction. And she has been disingenuous and dishonest about my stance and my platform around building more affordable housing. And that’s unfortunate, but I maintain my position. I’ve been consistent. I’ve not had to do any kinds of polls to determine what positions I will take. I make my decisions and take positions based on the needs of my community, and so there’s no need to get a poll to find out what’s the best position. People can depend on me, and trust me in Sacramento, because that’s the level of integrity that I have. I will always put people above the profit of the billionaire class, the for-profit developers, the for-profit healthcare system, corporate polluters, and so on.