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Will Universal Basic Income Message Resonate in the Liberal 15th District?

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Writer and podcaster Owen Poindexter, candidate for State Assembly in the 15th district. (Guy Marzorati/KQED)

This story is part of a weekly series of profiles of candidates running for the 15th Assembly District. You can see all the profiles and news about this race here.

In the race for State Assembly in the 15th district, progressive principles that divide Democrats statewide, like single-payer healthcare, are widely embraced by candidates hoping to represent the East Bay at the Capitol.

But universal basic income? The idea of guaranteed cash from the government is a cause currently championed by just one of the 12 candidates in the race: writer and podcaster Owen Poindexter.

He says in an area that has spawned historic liberal initiatives like recycling and fair housing, candidates should be going beyond support for higher minimum wage, affordable housing and single-payer healthcare.

"Of course I support all that stuff, but there are times when you need to expand the vocabulary of both the electorate and politicians," Poindexter said. "To make politicians a little braver around some of these issues."


Universal basic income is not a new concept; Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard Nixon were among the supporters of the idea in the 1960's and 1970's. But implementation has advanced little beyond pilot programs, including one launching in the city of Stockton.

Poindexter's challenge will be in spreading the universal basic income message on a shoestring budget.

He hasn't filed any fundraising reports, while fellow Democrats in the race brought in more cash last year than in any Assembly contest in the state.

Poindexter knows how integral fundraising is to campaigns. Before focusing his writing on universal basic income and criminal justice reform, he worked as a researcher for MapLight, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that looks into the role of money in politics.

"That's something I've always been passionate about," he said. "Almost any issue that you care about, you can trace back to campaign finance."

At the very least, Poindexter hopes to see the idea of universal basic income injected into the liberal lexicon.

"I know that I'm talking about some big ideas that are going to take a while to actually be implemented," he added. "But I think this conversation needs to be happening right now."

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