Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - May 7, 2010

Chasing Ira

Rich Gordon, Yoriko Kishimoto and Josh Becker brace for a tight race for Ira Ruskin's seat in the California Assembly

by Gennady Sheyner

A seasoned county supervisor, a bike-riding environmentalist and a venture capitalist with a passion for clean technology are all vying to replace Ira Ruskin in the 21st District of the California Assembly.

Each of the three Democrats believes he or she is the face of California. San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon points to his long record of balancing county budgets and building bipartisan coalitions. Yoriko Kishimoto, a former member of the Palo Alto City Council, cites her strong environmental credentials and her path from a Japanese immigrant to the first Asian elected to the Palo Alto council. Venture capitalist Josh Becker touts his clean-tech savvy and business know-how as major reasons why he best represents his district.

On June 8, voters will decide which of the three is best positioned to take on Republican candidate Greg Conlon. The winner of that race will have to tackle California's $21 billion budget deficit, oversee a controversial high-speed-rail project, revive a cash-strapped education system and find consensus in Sacramento.

The 21st District includes large chunks of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties: Palo Alto, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto, Stanford University and a section of San Jose. Because the district is heavily Democratic, whoever wins the primary next month will be a strong favorite to prevail.

When it comes to policy, Gordon, Kishimoto and Becker have more similarities than differences. Each talks about the need to reform California's system of governance, add transparency to the high-speed-rail project (see sidebar); promote clean energy; repeal the state's two-thirds requirement for passing budgets; and implement an oil-excise tax to reduce the state's staggering budget deficit. None of the three could think of a single Ruskin vote they disagree with.

Their backgrounds, however, are as varied as their personal styles. Gordon, who was born in San Mateo County, served as a minister in the United Methodist Church and has spent years in youth ministry and the nonprofit sector before joining the Board of Supervisors.

Kishimoto moved to California as a child and worked as a business consultant before emerging as one of Palo Alto's leading conservationists and transportation experts — credentials she believe make her well-suited to dealing with the proposed high-speed-rail project.

Becker, a Pennsylvania native, believes he epitomizes Silicon Valley better than his two opponents because of his entrepreneurial background, his networking skills and his history of supporting innovative ideas and creating jobs.

The following three profiles explore the candidates' respective journeys toward the 2010 election and their plans to fix California.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

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