Danny Trejo has been through a lot: The 76-year-old action star started his adult life in and out of prison, including a stint at San Quentin, got sober, learned to box, and found his way into the movies 35 years ago. Since then, the mustachioed muscleman has become emblematic of cinematic machismo writ large, from the cartoonish antics of “Machete” to dozens of guest stints in film and television. In recent years, he channeled that fame into several activist causes as well as a restaurant business, but a new Los Angeles Times editorial proposed another twist in his winding path: politician.
In an article published Friday morning, columnist Gustavo Arellano suggested that Trejo should be on the short list of candidates to fill California’s Senate gig that will soon be vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. “Everyone whom I talked to quickly smiled, thought about it for a bit — then smiled some more,” Arellano wrote. “He’s the epitome of someone who pulled themselves up from their proverbial bootstraps and showed anything is possible if you just grind.”
Reached by phone at his home in Los Angeles shortly after the article’s publication, Trejo sounded giddy but disinterested. “I would rather be serving on the frontlines then serving policies,” he said. “We have a lot of work here to settle.” When pressed, Trejo offered more insight into his political inclinations, and clarified the priorities at the top of his agenda — whether or not he takes them to higher office.
OK, you’ve read the article. If offered, will you serve?
What a great article! That was beautiful to wake up to. Listen, I leave all that stuff to the politicians. I’ve been asked a couple of times to run for councilman and stuff like that. I honestly believe that politicians have to be ‘A’ students in government. We’ve had so much problem in the United States by voting in celebrities. Look where we’re at right now! I’d rather be on the frontlines serving the police, serving the special needs, feeding the homeless, feeding the protestors, and kicking the looters in the ass. [laughs]
But if you were to hold office, what would you consider to be your top priority?
Oh, the homeless. Just get them off the streets. It’s cold. That’s what we already do. We call it “socking the homeless,” because we give them socks. This is what’s happened. The Reaganers are going to hate me for this. Governor Reagan closed all our state-run mental health facilities. People don’t remember that. The problem of being a celebrity is that he naturally put the cart before the horse. There was nothing out here so we turned all the mentally ill that we had in hospitals onto the streets. People don’t realize that we got people that been on the streets for generations. You know, we got grandmas through the Reagan years who got children on the streets, and they got kids going to school that are homeless. They need counseling, they need stuff to help them get off the streets. There are people who have lost their houses because of work, because of economy, because of our president. It was that kind of stuff. They need a hand up, not a hand out.
From a policy standpoint, what would you want to see changed?
See, the biggest problem with our government is that if Newsom has a great idea, people will automatically say, “OK, we’ll pass that, but we also want to take care of the fish in the delta.” They keep adding stuff to it and that’s what it slows it up. I think they should have a non-partisan group saying, “This is good, this isn’t.” They’re the law.
You’ve also been heavily involved in prison reform. What do you want to see changed on that front?
First of all, I’m glad that we’ve got a new state district attorney. Everybody has to be held accountable. It starts from the top. But then when you get to the district attorneys, they don’t make friends by letting people go. Their job is to convict people. It’s a sad state, but that’s the way it is. If someone comes in and says “We want to send this guy to jail,” the district attorney does it. When the first-strike law came in, what that did was take all the power away from the judge and give it to the district attorney. When you go to court, your adversary — because it’s an adversarial relationship — puts you at a disadvantage, because the district attorney has the power. The first thing he says is, “OK, look. The sentence carries 20 years. Plead guilty and I’ll give you five.” That’s all they do is make deals. People can’t afford attorneys anymore. I mean, come on. I can’t afford one. It makes it really difficult to be fair. So when you get some young Latino who has a gardening business who gets arrested for whatever, what does he do? “Gimme the deal, I need to get out to support my family.” Now he’s got a strike.
You happen to be a small business owner with Trejo’s Tacos. How does that inform your perspective on current economic challenges?
The government has to step in. But right now, our president is so involved in … there’s been no talk about the pandemic, no talk about the economy. All of it has been this election. That’s it. Right now, our government is basically stopped.
Were you able to get a PPE loan?
No, we didn’t. Kanye West did! [laughs] He got a million bucks! [laughs] I was on the floor. I couldn’t believe that our president could have the audacity for that. We have people starving, losing their homes, and Kanye West gets a million bucks. We’re still feeding hospitals. Anytime there’s any kind of event, we’ll feed whoever’s there. We’ll feed the command post for the police department anytime. They’ve gotta eat, too.
Where do you fall on environmental issues?
Well, what do scientists say? We’ve got about 12 years left before we’ve done irreversible damage. People do not want to believe that there’s such a thing as global warming. I was on a plane and a lady was leaving Florida because of the hurricane. She was coming to visit her daughter out here. I said it was because of global warming. She said, “Oh, it’s just weather!” But we’ve had more storms in the past five years than anytime ever. Our polar ice cap is melting. That’s scientific! It’s not like somebody is making that shit up. That’s why I’m so glad Biden got elected, because he is an environmentalist. Naturally, the people that are making millions of dollars on oil and coal don’t care.
Sounds like Senator Trejo would have to be on the Democratic ticket.
You know what? I’d be on the ticket for equality. Democratic or Republican, I don’t care. I don’t have a billion dollars, so I couldn’t be a Republican. I am a Democrat. My father was a Democrat. We’re working people. Most Democrats are working people.
Given that 70 million Americans voted for Trump in this election, I imagine some of them are Danny Trejo fans. What would you like them to know?
Like I said, I stay out of politics. I’ve got fans on both sides of the ticket. But I still speak my mind. I tell my Republican friends, “Hey, we don’t discuss politics or I’ll beat you.” [laughs]
We might need your help in a couple of weeks with the current occupant of the White House.
I can’t wait! I can’t wait to see the National Guard go and take him out of the White House.
You ever talk to Governor Newsom?
Gavin? Yeah, I’ve talked to him. Some politicians walk right by you. But he’s an awesome guy. And [L.A. mayor Eric] Garcetti. I talk to him all the time. I’ve got their phone numbers. They’re both people-people. They’re real.
One last time: Really, no interest in public office?
No, no, god no. My assistant and I were passing out Pampers to young married couples and he said, “Damn, we can never go back to the joint now.” I said, “Why?” And he says, “We’d get a nickname like Huggies!” It’s the last thing you want in the world is a nickname.