Facing unprecedented budget deficits, extreme partisanship and two-thirds voting requirements that create impasses on any controversial issue, state government in California has become virtually dysfunctional.
While the Peninsula is well served by termed-out Assemblyman Ira Ruskin and state Senator Joe Simitian, the grip of party leaders and resulting partisanship makes for a rough-and-tumble Sacramento that is more often gridlocked than not.
In this atmosphere, it is tempting to recommend the candidate that is made from the most different mold, Josh Becker.
Becker, 40, has law and business degrees from Stanford and describes himself as a "green-energy entrepreneur." He has engaged in numerous policy issues relating to the environment and education and started the Full Circle Fund, whose members give money and donate time to help local nonprofits focused on these areas. He has an impressive list of donors and supporters that extend deeply into the entrepreneurial fabric of Silicon Valley.
Becker is so passionate about clean-technology and its ability to drive California's economy out of recession that it's difficult to glean specifics from him on the immediate challenges facing the state, such as how we deal with the $21 billion budget deficit. His only idea for further reducing state spending was to stop work on planning for new prisons.
It is hard to imagine how someone with his drive and idealism wouldn't get to Sacramento and quickly be drained of enthusiasm in the face of the frustrations of a slow-moving government in need of so many institutional reforms.
Former Palo Alto City Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto, 54, believes she represents the future of California. Having emigrated from Japan as a child, learning English and later getting her MBA from Stanford and starting her own consulting business, Kishimoto is an example of the growing role immigrants are playing in shaping the future direction of California.
Her elected experience, however, is limited to her eight years on the City Council, during which she championed quality-of-life environmental issues such as protecting neighborhoods, encouraging sustainability practices and addressing climate change on a local level. While always prepared and armed with a long list of questions for staff on issues before the council, she never demonstrated an ability to lead her colleagues toward creative solutions on complex issues. She has done a good job of organizing Peninsula cities into a cohesive voice on high-speed rail concerns.
By contrast to both Becker and Kishimoto, Rich Gordon has a much broader command of the issues facing the state and what must happen to restore a functioning state government.
He has a 12-year track record of crafting legislative solutions to problems and building needed coalitions on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, as well as statewide through his involvement in the supervisors' association. And as executive director of the nonprofit Youth & Family Assistance he was actually responsible for delivering services in response to community needs.
Gordon shares Becker and Kishimoto's environmental concerns and goals, but he is more pragmatic and politically astute to how they can be accomplished. He puts a high priority on the need to reform the way state government works, including repealing the two-thirds requirement for approving the state budget, easing term limits, creating open primaries and tightening the initiative process.
Reflecting his consensus-building style, Gordon has support across the political spectrum from people who have been impressed by his ability to reach out to adversaries and craft solutions to difficult problems. Although he enjoys union support in the race, he supports reform of the public-employee pension system and supported the two-tier system currently in place in San Mateo County.
For those most concerned about the High Speed Rail project, Gordon is the most knowledgeable of the three candidates and advocates that the legislature implement a new oversight structure for the governing board with greater transparency and local representation.
Rich Gordon is the only candidate with the knowledge and experience to be immediately effective in Sacramento, and that is what will be needed to address successfully the serious problems in California.
We strongly recommend his election to the state Assembly.