California State Sen. Joe Simitian is the 800-pound gorilla in this November's three-way race to represent northern Santa Clara County on the Board of Supervisors.
The two other candidates for the board's 5th District seat -- two-time Cupertino Mayor Kris Huyilan Wang and Cupertino City Councilman Barry Chang -- also have credible records in local elected office.
But neither Chang nor Wang approaches the widespread name recognition enjoyed by the 59-year-old Simitian, gained over three decades in elected office, beginning with the Palo Alto Board of Education and moving through the Palo Alto City Council, county Board of Supervisors, California Assembly and California Senate.
Termed out of the Senate this year, Simitian is circling back to seek for the second time a seat on the county board, where current Supervisor Liz Kniss will be termed out and is herself circling back to vie for a spot on the Palo Alto City Council.
Such are the effects of term limits on the local political landscape.
A run for Congress would be a logical next step for Simitian, but Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, a close friend of Simitian's first elected to Congress in 1992, announced in August she will seek re-election this year. Congress is not subject to term limits, which were imposed on the state Legislature by California voters in 1990.
Chang, who holds a master's in civil engineering from the University of Cincinnati, is a Realtor. He was elected to the Cupertino Union School District Board of Education in 1995 and re-elected in 1999. He served four years on the Cupertino Public Safety Commission and was elected to the City Council in 2009.
His long-running, outspoken crusade against the 73-year-old Lehigh Permanente quarry and cement plant led to a public chastising by County Executive Jeffrey Smith last spring over his behavior at two public meetings.
Wang, who has a background in statistics, computer science and business, worked for local companies HP, Sun Microsystems, Visa and Portal Software before entering public service around 2003.
She was elected to the Cupertino City Council in 2003 and re-elected in 2007 and has served on an array of commissions, including the Santa Clara County Parks & Recreation Commission, the Santa Clara County Recycling Waste & Reduction Commission, the Santa Clara County Cities Association and the Environmental Quality Policy Committee of the League of California Cities. She has been an office-holder in several of those groups.
In late-March e-filings with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, Chang's campaign showed an ending balance of $11,748; Wang's campaign had an ending balance of $50,000 and Simitian's campaign had an ending balance of $108,489.
Chang did not return email and phone requests for an interview, and Wang said she was unavailable because of an out-of-town trip.
In a phone interview Monday, Simitian noted the county is significantly worse off financially than it was when he previously served on the Board of Supervisors, from 1997 to 2000.
The biggest issues on the horizon for counties, he said, will be health care reform and the planned closure of state juvenile-justice facilities and transfer of funding and supervision responsibilities to the county level.
"We're moving a lot of things back to local government in the probation and incarceration world, both as a way to do the job less expensively and hopefully do a better job," he said.
"The state record on recidivism is nothing to be proud of, and there's a lot of evidence that good programs at the local level can outperform what gets done at the state level.
"It means all the probation offices are going to have to be working in top form and there will be changes in the county jail. It also means the county will have to step up for programs for folks trying to re-enter the community, and get that job done."
Because the north county communities generally are more prosperous than other areas, part of the job is making the case for services here, Simitian said, recalling that in his previous supervisorial stint, his colleague Blanca Alvarado had 45 percent of the county's welfare population while he had just 4.5 percent.
Simitian, a lawyer, said if elected, he'd look forward to being able to live at home and leave the Sacramento policymaking world for the day-to-day operations of government and delivery of services.
Under the rules for the nonpartisan supervisor election, any of the three candidates could win the seat outright if he or she were to get more than 50 percent of the votes on June 5. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters will square off in November.