Jim Beall’s open Senate seat draws heavyweight contenders

Photo of Jim Beall’s open Senate seat draws heavyweight contenders
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Four prominent South Bay politicians are jockeying to succeed termed-out state Sen. Jim Beall and they’re armed with hundreds of thousands in campaign funds donated by influential special interest groups ranging from labor unions to the oil industry.

The front-runners for the District 15 seat include three Democrats — former Assemblywoman Nora Campos, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese and attorney Ann Ravel — and an independent, San Jose City Councilman Johnny Khamis. Three others are in the race but have not raised any campaign money.

The open seat represents 950,000 residents of Cupertino, Los Gatos, Campbell, Saratoga, Monte Sereno and the San Jose neighborhoods of Willow Glen, Almaden, Evergreen, East San Jose, and downtown.

The top two vote-getters in the March 3 primary election will compete in a runoff this November.

Cortese, who will term out of his District 3 supervisor seat later this year, is the fundraising leader, having amassed more than $900,000 through his campaign committee to date. He also has benefited from an additional $307,000 in outside spending from labor political action committees that support his campaign.

Khamis has raised more than $450,000 and Ravel more than $425,000.

Campos, who has received $286,000 in direct donations, has benefited from more than $778,000 in outside PAC spending, largely from a committee called Restore California’s Middle Class Coalition, which is funded by Valero and other oil industry interests.

All four front-runners agree that, when it comes to tackling Silicon Valley’s growing homelessness crisis, California should allocate more money to handle the problem and assess state-owned properties for emergency and affordable housing, all while providing emergency housing in the meantime.

Campos, Cortese and Ravel also call for exploring tax-increment financing to help pay for new housing construction.

Campos, who served in the state Assembly from 2010 to 2016 and on the San Jose City Council for a decade, said she’s the only candidate with experience in the Legislature and pointed to a bill she sponsored in 2016 that allows cities to declare a shelter crisis and pursue temporary emergency shelter solutions.

“Silicon Valley is an important region … that deserves a representative in the state Senate that has been an effective leader, and will be able to hit the ground running,” Campos said.

She noted that making housing more affordable, improving education opportunities and beefing up public transit all go hand-in-hand.

“I want to continue the priorities I started a long time ago — affordable housing, homelessness, transportation and education, and I think they all tie together,” Campos said. “I want to make sure we are looking at how every child in Silicon Valley has a path to be successful and move into the workforce here.”

Cortese, a supervisor for almost eight years, said the county has been at the forefront of policy issues involving the housing crisis and climate change, and he wants to bring that innovative spirit to Sacramento.

“California needs to anchor the entire nation … it’s not as if every county in California is doing this stuff,” Cortese said, pointing to the county’s $950 million affordable housing bond, climate change goals and recent funding initiatives for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. ““We’ve been innovating on policy in all these areas.”

Before he was elected supervisor, Cortese was on the San Jose City Council for eight years and the East Side Union High School District for eight years.

He said the state should financially support cities and counties to address the homelessness and housing crisis.

“[The county] can’t issue property tax credits, or we can’t allow somebody to have tax-exempt financing…but the state can do that,” he said.

In their answers to questionnaires from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the three Democrats also supported continued funding for a high-speed rail project connecting the Central Valley to Silicon Valley, as well as new sales taxes to fund Caltrain or a transit “mega-measure” for the entire Bay Area.

Khamis, on the other hand, opposes spending any more money on high-speed rail and levying additional sales taxes to fund regional public transportation. Other local taxes, which he supported, have “overburdened” taxpayers, he says.

In the candidate questionnaire, Khamis said he’s concerned new labor contracts for Valley Transportation Authority employees will eat up revenue from new tax increases.

“The public has not seen much results from any of these measures,” Khamis wrote.

Khamis left the GOP in 2018 citing the Trump administration’s treatment of migrant families and his own family’s experience fleeing war in Lebanon in 1976.

First elected to the San Jose City Council in 2013, Khamis pitches himself as a fiscal conservative who would focus on getting results in Sacramento, which he refers to in an ad as a special-interest “party town.”

“I’m particularly proud of the work I’ve done finding and saving money, instead of spending,” Khamis said.

Because affordable housing is often expensive to build, Khamis said the state should buy existing, already-built units from private owners to “save the state money.”

Ravel, who has never run for elected office, also portrays herself as a different voice, citing her work pushing for transparency in campaign spending while serving on the state’s ethics watchdog and as former President Barack Obama’s appointee on the Federal Elections Commission.

She was Santa Clara County counsel for 11 years before leaving for Washington D.C., where she worked on consumer litigation for the Department of Justice and was one of three Democrats on the board of the Federal Election Commission.

Ravel decided to run after returning to the South Bay and realizing issues like homelessness and affordable housing had gotten worse for Bay Area residents.

“Rental housing is so expensive that my own son couldn’t afford to live here with his wife and kid, and the transportation system is so terrible and gridlocked,” Ravel said. “None of those things had improved in the time I was gone.”

She also points to her work against “dark money” while serving on the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, where she oversaw a record $1 million fine of political groups funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers, and her advocacy against unlimited corporate spending in politics on a federal level.

“I think what really sets me apart is that — and you can see this from the campaign contributions that different people have received — is I’m in this because I actually care about the community, and I’m not trying to just get my next job,” Ravel.

Three other candidates are on the ballot, although they have not raised or spent any money campaigning: Republican mechanical equipment manufacturer Robert Howell, Republican Army staff Sgt. Ken Del Valle and independent Tim Gildersleeve, a paratransit driver for a county contractor.

From left, Tim Gildersleeve, Ken Del Valle, and Robert P. Howell are all running for Sen. Jim Beall’s vacated District 15 State Senate seat. (Photos by Dai Sugano/ Bay Area News Group, Courtesy of Ken Del Valle, and Courtesy of Robert Howell)

Howell, who describes himself as a pro-Donald Trump conservative, said the state is spending on high-speed rail while failing to put a dent in problems such as homelessness.

“They’re throwing money into a hole and the problem is getting worse,” Howell said, acknowledging he hasn’t proposed specific solutions.

Del Valle, a San Jose State University student who was born in Puerto Rico, is a U.S. Army Reserve staff sergeant and spent nearly a decade in the military before recently pursuing a degree. He founded the university’s Turning Point USA chapter and says he’s running to diversify the voices in the Senate.

Gildersleeve pointed to the disabled clients he drives as an example of why housing, education and adequate transportation should be treated as “human rights.”

“A lot of my customers are dependent on government assistance, they’re disabled, they should have 24/7 transportation like you and me,” Gildersleeve said.

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