Assembly race: Software engineer challenges legislative veteran
The incumbent served three terms as a San Mateo County supervisor before being sent two years ago to Sacramento, where his record suggests he knows how to find bipartisan support for his bills. And, he's a Democrat in a heavily Democratic district.
The Republican challenger has held no elective office but served for a time as chair of the San Bruno Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee.
It's not hard to see how this race will go.
Rich Gordon of Menlo Park is asking voters to return him to Sacramento next year to represent residents in District 24. He now represents District 21, but redistricting has altered boundaries, and areas of the Midpeninsula that he's represented since December 2010, including his hometown, are now in District 24.
In addition to Menlo Park, the newly reconfigured district includes Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos Hills, Sunnyvale and most of the San Mateo County coastside from El Granada south.
Challenger Chengzhi "George" Yang of Menlo Park, a software engineer, has criticized Gordon for "not listening to the people of the district," especially on topics such as high-speed rail.
"My mission is to really listen to people and hear what they want to see changed in Sacramento," he said.
During his tenure in Sacramento, Gordon introduced 35 bills, with 26 signed into law. The 74 percent success rate is the highest in the Assembly, he noted.
Among the bills he pushed through this year is AB 481, which was signed by the governor in September. The bill, which was supported by the Fair Political Practices Commission, requires greater transparency for campaign spending by independent committees that are not controlled by a candidate.
The bill was needed, Gordon said, because committees run ads and create campaign literature with no identification of who's paying for it. AB 481 requires "identification of who's behind the ad, and more (and more timely) reporting to the FPPC." It will make it "far easier for the FPPC and others to track spending," he said.
Another component is the requirement that committees identify a person who would be accountable to the FPPC after the election. "Many of these committees right after an election go out of business — they disappear," Gordon said. "That's when a lot of violations are found ... but who do you contact? The entity no longer exists."
Any change to FPPC law requires a two-thirds vote, Gordon noted, adding that it made his ability to achieve bipartisan support for his bills all the more critical.
Asked for other highlights of his term, Gordon points to a bill he wrote that was signed into law that created financial incentives for California companies to remanufacture the plastic recyclables that are typically being shipped overseas — a jobs-boosting and environmentally superior strategy to deal with plastics — and another aimed at reducing fraud in recycling, which has been costing the state millions of dollars, he said.
Gordon, who chaired a budget subcommittee in the Assembly in his first term, was appointed chair of the Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee last summer.
He has yet to decide on bills he would introduce during a second term, but noted that the "areas I have great interest in" are the environment and education. In the latter category, "I remain very concerned with inequity of funding in school districts and the high drop-out rate."
Yang also lists education as one of his top two concerns, the state budget being the other.
Of his inexperience in elective office, Yang said that as an engineer by training, he is a problem-solver and innovative thinker. He also said his strong skills as a negotiator would make him an effective legislator who could find bipartisan support.
He has floated ideas about job creation, such as promoting ecotourism in the state's areas of innovative sustainable and organic farming.
"There are great organic farms in Half Moon Bay, for example," he said.
He also has introduced his own visions for pension reform and for the state's planned high-speed rail system. His rail plan would route the train along the Altamont Pass, create a spur into Oakland, and boost ferry service to link the North Bay, San Francisco and the Peninsula to the Oakland hub.
An Altamont route is supported by many on the Peninsula, who have fought the current plan to route the train along the Caltrain right-of-way into San Francisco.
Yang criticizes Gordon for a July vote with the Assembly majority on a high-speed rail funding bill. He said the bill includes only a small amount of money for the electrification of Caltrains — a carrot for the Peninsula — with "no guarantee that it won't be built with four tracks."
Gordon dismissed the criticism and said there was a lot of misinformation reported in the media about the vote. The bill he voted for, he said, funded only ancillary components of the rail plan but no actual high-speed rail construction.
Those components are: electrification of Caltrain, modernization of the rail service between Los Angeles and Anaheim, new tracks in the Central Valley that will be used solely by Amtrak if high-speed rail isn't built, and funding for rapid-transit systems across the state.
"There's actually no high-speed rail activity in any of those projects," he said.
Almanac News Editor Renee Batti can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.