We don’t review every candidate at the local (i.e., city) level, however some individuals and issues standout and we believe are worthy of your attention.
Governor – Jerry Brown, Resident Miracle Maker
We first endorsed Jerry Brown for the office of Governor in 2010. Frankly, since he has been elected, Governor moon-beam has far surpassed our expectations. While our last Governor successfully recalled a sitting Governor with much fanfare on a supposed mandate of fiscal responsibility, a decade later that fanfare resulted in exactly the same results as each of his predecessors: A massive annual deficit adding to an ever-increasing debt-load. Enter Jerry Brown, with far less fanfare and a downright boring disposition. All he has done is use a series of cost cuts and revenue increases to completely erase the $25 billion dollar annual deficit he inherited from Governor Schwarzenegger and his predecessors. (See this analysis). This year California has a projected surplus of between 850 million and 2.4 billion dollars, the State is actually paying down a small amount of its massive long accumulated debt, and has projections of greater surpluses and a declining debt in the future.
This is the kind of stability and good government that California hasn’t seen in decades. How good a job has Brown done? Reports show that traditional Republican backers are eschewing the Republican candidate and either not donating, or actually donating funds to back Brown. We hope Governor Brown keeps his fiscally sensible outlook in the future. For now, there is no easier vote to cast. Frankly we’d like to clone Governor Moon-beam and use him in a few other political positions.
Lt. Governor – Gavin Newsom, Ribbon Cutter Extraordinaire
We think Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom has done a great job cutting those ribbons – after all, that is mostly what a Lieutenant Governor does. Joking aside, as the current Lt. Governor, Newsom serves as the President of the California Senate; the Lt Governor also serves on the following regulatory committees and agencies:
- UC Board of Regents
- CSU Board of Education
- Ocean Protection Council
- California Emergency Council
- State Lands Commission
- Chairs Commission for Economic Development
While we are hard-pressed to say that Newsom bears much responsibility for Brown’s amazing results in wrestling California’s finances into an improved position, we do acknowledge that he gets some credit as President of the Senate. Since California now has a democratically controlled Assembly and Senate, it is important for leaders to keep their own party-members in check. We think Newsom has done that. He also deserves credit for being on the right side of Gay Marriage before it was popular to be on that side (even if we found his methods a bit troubling at the time) Checkout this interactive graphic for the current status of gay marriage by state.
State Assembly District 28 – Evan Low
We previously endorsed Mr. Low when he ran for assembly in District 24 and we continue to be impressed by this neophyte politician. Low burst into politics as a City Councilman from Cupertino where he brought youth and a strong sense of purpose to his assignments. After only 3 years of experience in politics, he was selected by his fellow city council members to serve as the Vice-Mayor and then Mayor of Campbell. Low didn’t win his race for the 24th, and instead has continued his service as Mayor of Campbell for seven years while concurrently serving as an instructor at De Anza College, where years earlier he earned a degree – before later graduating from the John F. Kennedy School of government at Harvard. We join the many other groups that are impressed not only with Low’s history, but also with the drive and dedication he has shown in the tasks he’s undertaken.
House of Representatives District 17 – Ro Khanna
What you say? Unseat Bay Area fixture Mike Honda? Well, yes. Ultimately, it’s not that Honda is doing a horrible job, it’s just that Khanna seems to bring more promise and energy. Perhaps like us that sounds to you like age discrimination – there may be something too that. Honda is 72, but it does seem like he is a bit less “in-step” with his Silicon Valley constituency when compared to former Obama Administration member, former patent attorney, Stanford and Santa Clara grad, and all-around techno-dude Ro Khanna. There have been quiet concerns for a few years that despite his strong liberal track record on big civil rights issues, Honda has lost a step on his substance. For a detailed discussion on their respective positions see this article complete with video of Honda phoning it in during a town hall.
Among the issues that we don’t love about Honda is his fondness for travel perks and PAC monies. He is right when he quickly points out that the Supreme Court permits such political expenditures by cloaking them in the protections of speech – but from a good governance standpoint, we think he is on the wrong side of that issue. We could also quibble with the fact that in his long career he’s only had one insignificant bill (that he authored) signed into law – but at least in the current climate that doesn’t seem like a criticism unique to him. But we are more bothered that he just doesn’t seem as “plugged-in” to current issues as Khanna.
Khanna, who has captured the hearts and dollars of Silicon Valley technorati, has advocated for immigration reform, has come out strongly against PAC monies in politics (including pledging not to take any such funds himself both during the campaign and if he joins congress). He also opposes pay increases for congress – we think that’s a bit gimmicky. However, his desire to remove congressional pensions is a bit more serious – we agree with Khanna that serving in congress shouldn’t be a career and therefore doesn’t justify a lifelong pension.
Opponents correctly point out that with a Republican majority that seems dead-set against any compromise with the Democratic minority there is little difference between Khanna and Honda. That may be true, but we prefer to think optimistically. If there is an opportunity to implement immigration reform, patent reform, or other issues that are important to silicon valley we’d like to hear Khanna’s voice in the mix. Honda’s work over the last decade or so and his positions on many big-picture issues are commendable. But we think that in this case, change is good.
Mayor of San Jose – Split decision Cortese/Liccardo
We at PolitoMuse are more than a bit disillusioned with this current crop of San Jose City council members. As we see it, there are few issues that a City Council needs to get right – mostly centered around the “quality of life” issues that city residents feel at the local level. By that standard, this group seems to be failing.
First, we are troubled by a unanimous city council vote that occurred in 2012. That decision proposed a laudable plan to make downtown San Jose more “bike friendly;” undoubtedly a good idea. However, among the plans details was also the decision to remove a traffic lane from the main thoroughfare bringing traffic into downtown San Jose, the San Jose Convention center, and mammoth employer Adobe Systems, from Interstate 280 – Almaden Boulevard. The result – predictably – has been creation of a daily traffic jam for all commuters entering the city. One local reporter reported: “I was flooded with complaints from drivers who said their commutes had increased 15 to 20 minutes. One of my bosses said his drive home at night was now “a disaster.” (See this Merc article) Moreover, while many of the new bike lanes are heavily utilized, the one responsible for the traffic jams on Almaden Boulevard is not; likely because it is a major thoroughfare and is therefore not particularly safe for bicyclists. When the issue has been raised with City Council members, they responded that the plan was a “road diet” for motorists. Bicycling enthusiast, and key plan proponent Sam Liccardo has pushed back against complaints of the Council-created traffic jams, not by denying them, but by embracing them: “I know plenty of folks outside of the downtown gripe because they can’t speed through downtown at 45 mph anymore. That’s exactly what we wanted to eliminate, and what any neighborhood has a right to expect.”
We think bike lanes are a great idea. We think taking dogmatic extreme positions is not. There are plenty of streets, sidewalks, and other locations that could be used for bike lane real-estate (curiously, one street over from Almaden Boulevard there is a beautiful, lengthy, park running parallel to Almaden – yet, it contains no bike lane). We think it is the job of politicians to make progressive decisions in a way that is least disruptive to the lives of residents. We think when a good politician hears a proposal presented by a proponent; he or she should carefully consider the effect of the proposal both on opponents and proponents. The San Jose City Council did none of that and, since 2012, it has doubled-down and ignored the complaints of residents, commuters and businesses in downtown San Jose. That is both bad policy and poor leadership.
Second and more importantly, the city has gone from being considered among “the safest big cities” to a city lagging in nearly all statistics. Over the last several years, San Jose went from being ranked an impressive 35% below the average crime rate for both the U.S. and California to 3% over average. (See article, ) While the crime rate (number of crimes per 100,000 residents) climbed dramatically, the number of arrests in San Jose last year numbered less than half the number five years earlier. Meanwhile, 9-1-1 response times rose from about 8 minutes to over 20 minutes. We don’t pretend that these are easy issues, but the fact that none of the sitting city council members were sounding the alarm on this serious problem (at least not until they commenced their respective mayoral campaigns) is troubling to say the least.
So what has caused the dramatic increase in crime in San Jose? Probably an array of things. Our blog followers will remember the June 2012 Measure B, a Mayor Reed proposal that was supported by PolitoMuse. However, we supported Measure B not because we want to target unions, but simply because we agreed with the Grand Jury and other analysis that showed that the City would go bankrupt without changes to the benefits packages.
Since then, a court has invalidated some key portions of Measure B. (See this article). However, the judge’s ruling did give the city some lee-way by ruling that the City could cut employee pay to off-set the benefit cuts that couldn’t be implemented. (See this NYT article) The decision is currently being appealed, but in fairness, the judge’s decision doesn’t seem particularly weak (we were concerned about the issue of cutting existing, vested benefits from worker contracts back in 2012).
The San Jose Police Department’s morale is undeniably low and the police force is hemorrhaging personnel due to resignations and retirements – at a rate of about 100+ a year. Rightly or wrongly, San Jose has a really bad rep in law enforcement circles as being a city that doesn’t support their police. And the environment between first responders and city officials is toxic at best. Not good on so many levels.
So where do we go from here? Or with whom? Well, this is where PolitoEsq and PolitoMaven’s opinions diverge.
PolitoEsq sees merit in Cortese as the only mayoral candidate to suggest that settling the dispute with unions might be smarter than spending all the money chasing the elusive “win” on appeal – he thinks that’s wise. He thinks it’s unlikely that Cortese plans on completely gutting the reforms and returning San Jose back to the financial spiral it was in during the 2012 elections. Moreover, even if that was his secret desire, there is no way the City Council would back that position. Moreover, PolitoEsq thinks that having a 2 year rolling battle with police and fire – as Mayor Reed, Liccardo, and the other existing City Councilmembers have had – is bad policy. Especially during a period when the City needs the help of those very groups to fix a very real public safety problem. PolitoEsq views Liccardo’s strident and dismissive approach to those with whom he disagrees (see discussion on traffic complaints and cops above for example) to be particularly troubling.
Moreoverly, there is support for the idea that Cortese will take a centrist position. Although opponents question why he did so, it is undisputed that in 2006, Cortese was the lone dissent in a 10-1 vote that approved the ruinous 90% pension plan package that ultimately brought about Measure B six years later. (See the article ). Whether you think he voted against it because he was mad at the unions that day or because he really saw the fiscal writing on the wall, the fact remains he was the only city council member to do so. PolitoEsq also views as more evidence of fiscal responsibility Cortese’s work as President of the Board of Supervisors where, in 2011, he worked with employee unions to negotiate $225 million in wage and benefit reductions.
Importantly, when Cortese answers questions about Measure B, he doesn’t dodge the issue. He says he did not support Measure B because he felt parts of it were unlawful – a position that we have to concede is correct – but then he also states he did not support the 2006 package or any subsequent ones. (See this article ) PolitoEsq would be happier with a more full-throated support of the need for fiscal restraint, but he views Cortese’s middle-of-the road approach to be more pragmatic than his opponents who seem more interested in a fight – including Liccardo’s simplistic response in the same debate suggesting that the mammoth crime problems can be solved by changing the rules regulating when police rotate in and out of neighborhoods. (Id.)
PolitoMaven doesn’t agree that Cortese’s ties to unions and relative “outsider” status will translate into him being an effective mayor or leader to resolve this mess. Cortese has a reputation of being cautiously weighing the pros and cons and isn’t able to make the hard decision. Additionally, while Cortese may not have been on the City Council (like Liccardo and peers) she feels Cortese has some explaining to do on some of his Board of Supervisors vote to approve a five year contract with (a now bankrupt) ambulance company.
PolitoMaven feels Sam Liccardo has a compelling biography of a local Italian boy who went from Bellarmine, to Georgetown to Harvard. His community service is legitimate — working with the homeless, reading with students at the local elementary school and serving as a federal prosecutor and with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor of sexual assault and child exploitation crimes. PolitoMaven feels Liccardo’s endorsements from former Mayors Susan Hammer and Tom McEnery carry credibility given Hammer and McEnery’s pragmatic “get it done” governing styles and their reputation for understanding what it takes to be mayor of San Jose. Oh yeah and he wrote a book on what he would do for our political nerds who just can’t get enough public policy discussion.
Yes the police and unions are vehemently opposed to Liccardo and have thrown all their resources into Cortese’s campaign. Even Liccardo is realistic in terms of where he stands with the unions when he commented he and the unions “won’t hug it out the first day” he’s in office if elected. But he has publically committed to meeting with them on day one and work to find the common ground. PolitoMaven believes his background, experience and energy are the right bet for a brighter San Jose future.
San Jose City Council
San Jose City Council – District 1 – Charles “Chappie” Jones
Jones is an Apple veteran, community volunteer and local boy. He is championed as a fiscal conservative, but unlike Liccardo and his crew, Jones indicates he is interested in a negotiated compromise to the ongoing labor battle between the City and its Police force. We are optimistic that Jones can strike the balance we are looking for between fiscal responsibility and bridge-building between the City and its cops.
Jones is running against a labor-backed candidate. We have nothing against him, we just think Jones is the better choice to navigate the current problems facing the city of San Jose.
San Jose City Council – District 3 – Raul Peralez
Peralez is a former police officer, EMT and local volunteer. Understandably, he is very focused on the crime problem that the City is facing and while we would not want to “stack” the council with police officers, we think electing a former local cop to the council and empowering him to help solve the problems is a smart move. We met Peralez during a campaign event and were impressed with him. We expect him to be close to labor, but in talking with him he seems to also understand the fiscal constraints faced by the city.
His opponent has allegedly gotten some dirt on him in the past with some intemperate remarks (see Internal Affairs article). We think that’s a minor issue, but in the current hot-headed battle between the City and its police force, we’d prefer to select members we are confident will present as moderates. Peralez has managed to garner strong support from a diverse range of individuals, businesses, and non-profit groups. While we’d expect him to easily get support from labor and police, we are more impressed that he also has endorsements from less expected sources like LaRaza Roundtable, DAWN, and a long list of downtown business owners.
San Jose City Council – District 7 – Maya Esparza
Esparza is one of the more impressive candidates we have met in some time. A former School Board member, non-profit administrator, and long-time local resident we think she has the drive and smarts to bring a fresh perspective to a Council that sorely needs it. Esparza’s local Latina roots are legitimate as she is known and well-respected by long-time leaders in her own largely Latino and Vietnamese district formerly held by Madison Nguyen. She has worked with congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and former Council-member Nora Campos and has also worked in the private sector. Not surprisingly, Esparza has collected an impressive array of endorsements. Although we met Esparza during this campaign, a number of our PolitoPals have known her for many years. She is the real deal.
Santa Clara County Judges
Santa Clara Superior Court Office No. 24 – Matthew Harris
Longtime PolitoMuse know we are not fans of California’s direct-election of judges. We believe that judges should be removed from the political process to ensure that they are not affected by the changing winds of public opinion. We also believe that it is incredibly difficult for voters to properly assess the abilities of a judge. While we know the appointment process (the Governor is also entitled to appoint judges to open seats) isn’t perfect, we think it is a far better way securing qualified judges.
Because of our dislike of the judicial election process we rarely recommend a candidate challenging a sitting judge, since doing so is effectively a vote to remove that sitting judge. This situation, however, warrants an exception to our general rule. Judge Ritchie has struggled mightily since taking the bench, while we decline to address some of the specifics; suffice it to say that we know she has quietly lost the support of many within the court system. During the primary, both of Judge Ritchie’s challengers either directly or indirectly referenced the widely-held belief that she is unsuitable for her current position. More recently, Judge Ritchie has been the subject of a formal ethics complaint during this election cycle. Whether the judge’s use of an actual case that was before her in a campaign video was an ethics violation, and whether she was embellishing the story of that case or not, there is little question that her decision to make such a video wasn’t in keeping with the good judgment we expect from judges.
Since voters installed Judge Ritchie, we think it is up to voters to replace her. We recommend doing that by voting for Matthew Harris a Deputy District Attorney with a good track record. Harris has picked up endorsements from a wide range of police, and political leaders as well as nearly all of the local judges. Earlier this month incumbent judge Ritchie suspended her campaign. But, in a fittingly bizzare twist, did not actually withdraw from the race and states that she hopes to win. Respectfully, we hope she doesn’t.
Other Candidate Endorsements
US Representative – District 19: Zoe Lofgren
US Representative – District 18: Anna Eshoo
Secretary of state: Alex Padilla
Controller: Betty Yee
Attorney General: Kamala Harris