David Cunningham, 21
At 21, David Cunningham could become the youngest person ever elected to the California State Legislature. Born to a mother who was addicted to drugs and a father who was involved in gangs, he was placed in the foster care system at the age of 3. He’s running for California Assembly District 64 in South Los Angeles, so he can expand Social Service programs and ensure everyone in his district receives the support services they need.
What was the best advice you've received before you ran for office?
The best advice I received was - I was too young and I wanted to prove that I could do the job. If I am elected next year, I will be the youngest person ever elected to the California State Legislature.
Who was telling you that you were too young?
A lot of legislators, but they would never show me how to get to the point to run for office. We'll leave it at that.
The first person to tell me that I wasn't qualified was Assemblymember Mike Gipson, my opponent. I just started working my way throughout the party, and just kept hearing it.
So when did the light bulb finally go off that you wanted to run for office?
When I started to do research about who my legislators were and how they were voting. They weren't really voting in the interest of the people and that's when I decided that I was going to run for state assembly.
Speaking of those interests you feel current elected officials are ignoring, what are the potholes in your district? What are the issues that are being neglected, and you think really need to be addressed?
Police accountability, healthcare, criminal justice reform, air quality, and environmental justice. A lot of people in my district are breathing in all of these bad toxins that are being spewed out by the oil companies and refineries in my district.
And a lot of people like myself, suffer from respiratory issues, like asthma, eczema, bronchitis, because of the oil refineries. My Assembly Member and my Senator receives thousands of Dollars from these companies and they go back up to Sacramento and vote in opposition to what the people want.
Who have been your greatest mentors?
My godmother, she's always been my biggest supporter. She was my eighth-grade teacher. I was placed in foster care at the age of three, at the age of 6 I was adopted and at the age of 11, I became homeless because I opened up about my sexuality. And at the age of 13, I met my eighth-grade teacher, Julia, who's now my godmother. She has since been my biggest supporter throughout.
You grew up in the foster care system and have openly discussed the abuse and neglect you faced in that system. How do you hope to improve the foster care system as a state assemblyman?
Well, just like teachers, I believe that social workers are also underpaid. And when they're underpaid, their focus tends to shift from the needs of the child, to “how am I going to pay my next bill”. It's not constructive or helpful to the development of the child because they lose attention, and a lot of things go unnoticed.
We can fight for higher wages and living expenses. We need to clean up homelessness on our street, and I know that we need statewide rent control.
We can fight for higher wages and living expenses. We need to clean up homelessness on our street, and I know that we need statewide rent control. I know that we need Medicare for all to have enough funds to focus on mental health and medical reasons.
Why did you choose to go into politics and government?
I got my start in HIV advocacy in Georgia, because I went to school in Georgia. HIV is a huge issue out there. Being a member of the LGBT community, and an ally of HIV positive men and women, I wanted to figure out how I could help advocate for those who are HIV positive. And so I started to lobby with the ACLU in Georgia, started joining democratic clubs. But I still wasn't into politics, I didn't want to be an elected official until 2016, the election year when I really decided that we needed to step up and assume leadership positions.
I wanted to just be an attorney, I didn't know what kind of attorney I wanted to be, I just knew I wanted to be an attorney to advocate for people. Now, I'm a part-time law student. I'm working with the ACLU of Southern California. And that’s how I got connected to the political world and found out I wanted to run for office to represent the people of Assembly District 64.
What past experience best prepared you for public office?
I can relate to what the people want. I wouldn't call myself a politician, I'm a neighbor, I'm a friend, I'm a son, I live the everyday lifestyle of my neighbors.
If I'm elected, I'll represent the people as I want to be represented now. That's my experience. Experiencing homelessness, the foster care system, being a black man in America has given me the experience that I need to represent the people fairly.
We have so many creative people. But we don't have the resources to get our people self-sustained.
How do you keep yourself grounded in your community?
I constantly walk around my community, I live in Watts. Many would say it's the worst part of my district, but that's where I'm from and what I'm familiar with.
I live in LA and take the Metro, and I see what people are going through. It tells me that we need better representation and encourages me to not accept money from all of the corporations fighting against the people. That's is how I stay grounded.
Campaigns often focus on what’s wrong with an area, and what needs to be fixed. Tell me about what you love about your district.
We have so many creative people. But we don't have the resources to get our people self-sustained. We don't have the resources in our community. You have so many artists, musicians, people who are great at sports and great at reading. I know so many kids in Watts and Compton who want to go to college, but the resources aren't brought to the forefront for them to help them get to college. There is not enough money to fund our music program. It becomes discouraging. I plan to change that.
…the time will never be unless you go for it and go after that position that you want.
If you're elected and you could wave a magic wand, get universal support for a project in the state legislature, what would you do?
Medicare for all/ A Universal Healthcare for the state of California. Because that focuses on a plethora of things that would be beneficial to the people of California.
What advice would you give to another young person who's considering running for office?
Just go for it. If you feel that you can do a better job than your current elected official, run. Don't let anyone tell you not to run. Don't let anyone discourage you and tell you it's not your time. When it comes to the party or when it comes to politics, the time will never be unless you go for it and go after that position that you want. Stay true to the people and yourself.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.