Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - May 7, 2010

Rich Gordon

Finding support on both sides of the fence

by Renee Batti

Ask Rich Gordon, a candidate for the state Assembly's 21st District seat, what makes him think he can bring people together and help end the divisiveness in Sacramento, and he's likely to point to his endorsements.

The endorsement list includes more than 100 elected officials — from U.S. congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier down to local special-district board members. But more to his point is the representation of both sides of the political fence that the list reflects, said Gordon, a three-term member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

Perhaps his proudest example is the people Gordon worked with several years ago when he chaired a group of "very disparate" individuals charged with working out controversial elements of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District's plan to annex Coastside property.

The group included members of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District board, pushing for annexation, and opponents of the plan, including San Mateo County Farm Bureau representatives and vocal "property rights" activists, Gordon said. They met every other week for six months, and at the end, "We were able to hammer out the agreement without opposition from the Farm Bureau," he said.

When he announced his candidacy for the Assembly seat, the first individual who endorsed him was Mary Davey of the District board, and the first organization, the Farm Bureau, he said.

He also points to endorsements he's received from county supervisors from across the state, most if not all of whom he worked with when he served as president of the California State Association of Counties. Singling out the board of Yolo County, Gordon said he received the endorsements of the most liberal member and the most conservative member.

Gordon highlights his work with the association, and the support of many of its members, because he believes it speaks to his viability as a state legislator. The supervisors were from "disparate groups — reflective of what you see in the state Legislature," he said. "I worked to bring them to common ground."

Gordon believes his hefty resume and long history as a supervisor gives him a sizeable edge over Josh Becker and Yoriko Kishimoto, his two opponents in the Democratic primary.

Becker has had no elective office experience, and Kishimoto's city council service was eight years in duration. Gordon contrasts that with his own history. Before his 12-year stint as a supervisor, he served for six years on the San Mateo County Board of Education.

"My background, experience and knowledge are broader and deeper" than that of his opponents, he said. "The key is that I can be judged on my track record. I have demonstrated fiscal responsibility in government (and the) ability to build bridges and coalitions."

As examples of fiscal responsibility, he cites his role about 10 years ago in helping to put an outcome-based budgeting process in place for the county, whereby results and benefits of programs could be measured for their efficiency and effectiveness. Also, he was a strong supporter of "a very good reserve policy" now in place.

If elected, Gordon said, he would work toward both revenue generation and spending cuts in the state but emphasized that cuts must be "surgical and strategic." For example, lawmakers shouldn't cut programs that help keep people out of prison, because prison is far more expensive than the axed programs would be.

He would support a look at reinstating the vehicle license fee and reviewing "the long-term fairness of Proposition 13," he said, noting that there are ways of protecting senior citizens to allow them to stay in their homes — a stated goal of Proposition 13.

Another source of revenue could be an oil-extraction tax, he said, noting that California is the only oil-producing state in the country that doesn't charge oil companies a fee for extracting oil. That tax is as high as 25 percent in at least one state — Alaska.

Gordon returns often to the need to fix Sacramento. As a legislator, he would "engage the public in a conversation" about the need to eliminate the two-thirds majority vote to pass a budget, a requirement that has caused gridlock in the Capitol for many years running.

But how can one person fix a badly broken system?

"Obviously, one person cannot change the system," he said. "One person can be a voice, and one person can join others. ... It only takes a handful to move toward change."

A native of San Mateo County, Gordon entered the ministry in the United Methodist Church after receiving a degree from the University of Southern California. Before running for public office in 1992, he worked in the nonprofit sector in San Mateo County, first with the YMCA, then with Youth and Family Assistance, where he served as executive director. He lives in an unincorporated area of Menlo Park with his husband, Dennis McShane.

Almanac News Editor Renee Batti can be e-mailed at rbatti@almanacnews.com.

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