Four years ago, Alex Lee was student body president at UC Davis. On Tuesday, he overwhelmingly won a seat in the California Assembly, becoming the youngest state legislator to assume office in more than 80 years.
The Generation Z Democrat from San Jose is 25 years old, lives with his mom and, up until recently, was working part time for an app-based delivery service to make ends meet during his campaign. When he is sworn into office, he will also be the first California legislator to have come out as bisexual.
Those facts could have easily been an obstacle during his campaign, Lee said. Instead, he leaned into all the things that set him apart from other lawmakers.
“All of this combined will make me an effective advocate,” Lee said Wednesday. “This isn’t abstract for me. I don’t have to try to understand what it’s like for people who struggle to pay their bills or with housing insecurity, that’s something I live with.”
Lee easily defeated Republican Bob Brunton for the Bay Area district that encompasses San Jose, Santa Clara and Fremont. While the seat has been solidly Democratic, voters with no party preference make up 33% to Republicans’ 15%. Assembly District 25 was previously held by Democrat Kansen Chu, who left to run for Santa Clara County supervisor.
In the March primary, Lee split the vote with seven other Democrats, allowing Brunton to finish on top. While it was was Lee’s first campaign, he wasn’t new to politics. He worked in the district office of Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) before quitting to run his campaign. He previously worked in the state Capitol office of Sen. Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park), who was first elected when he was in his mid-30s.
Stern said he could see right away that Lee had ambition.
“Even as an aide for an untested senator like me, Alex had the kind of impatience for progress that makes an unlikely win like his possible,” Stern said. “Knock on every door. Work for every vote. And never shy away from who you are.”
Lee said his his politics align with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who endorsed the young Democrat’s bid for the Assembly. Lee said he plans to keep his campaign pledge of not accepting corporate or special interest money while in office.
“One of my first bills will be to eliminate or limit special interest and corporate money in state elections,” Lee said. “It’s polluting our democracy.”
While riding the excitement of his win, Lee said the election didn’t bring a wave of good news. He opposed Proposition 22, the $200-million campaign led by Uber and Lyft seeking an exemption from California labor law limiting the use of independent contractors. The measure, which became the costliest in state history, passed on Tuesday.
“Proposition 22 has shown us how dangerous it is to allow multibillion dollar corporations to buy out sections of the law,” Lee said.
He said his opinions on Proposition 22 were solidified while working for an app-based delivery company he declined to name. During the pandemic, he said, it was risky and low-wage work.
“In my community, I can only afford to live at home with my family,” Lee said. “Like a lot of people, they have to live with their parents because that’s the only financially feasible option. That’s why housing affordability is important to me.”
His win adds another voice to the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus and the California Legislative LGTBQ Caucus.
“We’re thrilled by Alex’s historic election and know he’ll be a critical voice for bisexual Californians in Sacramento,” said Rick Chavez Zbur, executive director of Equality California.
Lee will join a Democrat-dominated Legislature, where fellow lawmakers are, on average, twice his age.
There has been only one California state lawmaker younger than Lee in the past century: Democrat Maurice Atkinson, who was 23 when he was elected to the Assembly in 1939, said Alex Vassar, communications manager at the California State Library.
Lee said he’s not worried about whether his age will mean people take him less seriously.
“There will always be detractors,” he said. “I will prove them wrong.”