Jaime Raul Zepeda doesn’t have the political experience like his opponents. He says he doesn’t want it.
“If candidates are funded by the exact same special interests who have funded everyone else before you, it’s going to be the same conversation,” Zepeda, 38, told San José Spotlight. “I don’t want to start my campaign by being in the pocket of people who will get in the way of me speaking on behalf of the public interest.”
Zepeda, a Democrat, is running for California’s 10th State Senate district that includes parts of Alameda and Santa Clara counties, including Hayward, Fremont, Milpitas and North San Jose. His priorities include climate change, affordable housing, high-quality public education and supporting small businesses—including forming a public bank for underrepresented communities, minority and women business owners.
Zepeda came to America from Mexico by himself at age 17. He is a graduate of the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and currently works for tech company LinkedIn.
He said he’s interested in reducing regulations for some small businesses to make it easier and cheaper for lower-income and minority-owned businesses to get licensed.
“I know the power of a small business in lifting up a community,” Zepeda said. “Despite the entrepreneurs that come out of here, California is one of the hardest places I’ve seen to set up a small business because of the intense regulation and, in many ways, unnecessary regulation of how hard it is to set up your own shop.”
Zepeda is on the board of Citizen Schools California, a nonprofit after school program for low-income students, and is an advisor and organizer for National Immigration Law Center, Bay Area Community Services, Ruby’s Place, Students Rising Above and the Small Business School Challenge. He’s organized local campaigns for President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Oakland mayoral candidate Joe Tuman.
“Instead of using his M.B.A. to think about how he can prop up himself, he’s applied his knowledge from business to organize his thoughts about how best to help small businesses and communities that are marginalized,” Tuman said. “He’s someone who kept his word, personable and prompt, which I appreciated.”
Other candidates in the race include Fremont Mayor Lily Mei, Hayward Councilmember Aisha Wahab and former San Jose City Council District 4 candidate Jamal Khan, all Democrats. Paul Pimentel, the race’s sole Republican so far, is also running.
Matthew Estipona, Zepeda’s campaign manager, is a newcomer to the candidate’s campaign. But Estipona worked on other campaigns before and said Zepeda’s is different.
“This is the first campaign where I really feel like the candidate genuinely cares about making a difference as a regular person,” Estipona said.
The two met for the first time in person last month at the Hayward Juneteenth Freedom Celebration.
“He was very personable,” Estipona said, recalling how they walked around meeting people at the celebration. “At the end of the day, that’s what you want in politics. Someone who just wants to talk to people, get to know them and try to make a difference.”
California’s 10th State Senate district represents just over 900,000 people, covering Santa Clara, portions of North San Jose, Milpitas, Fremont, Newark, Union City, Hayward and Castro Valley. Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), who terms out next year, currently holds the seat.
“The voters will determine the one who best matches their positions,” Wieckowski said. “I am confident the winner will be a progressive champion who will go to the Capitol and fight on behalf of working people and not the big corporate interests.”
Zepeda says he fits the bill and pledges not to take any corporate money in his campaign.
“I’m there trying to rally support and mobilize resources… I see how much worse it’s getting for people in our community who were already struggling to make ends meet,” Zepeda said. “It came to a point where I was not hearing that conversation, that level of urgency, in California. That’s why I’m running. I want to start that conversation.”