Kansen Chu’s campaign to replace Dave Cortese on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is a homecoming of sorts.
The veteran lawmaker has spent the past six years commuting to Sacramento where he represents parts of Silicon Valley and the East Bay in the California Assembly. Chu got his start in local politics as a school board trustee in San Jose’s Berryessa Union district. When San José Spotlight broke the news that he planned to leave Sacramento to run for local office in May 2019, Chu said it was an opportunity for him to have a greater impact.
In an interview this week, Chu told San José Spotlight that it has been a “rewarding experience” to serve the Bay Area in the Assembly, making decisions that affect 40 million Californians. But in the Assembly, he is one out of 80 votes. If elected to the Board of Supervisors, he’d be one of five.
That’s what he means when he says he believes he can have more impact as a local elected official than he can in the Assembly. He also has a passion for local government, telling this news organization it was an “honor and a privilege” to represent his neighbors, first on the school board and later on the San Jose City Council.
Plus, his children and grandchildren live in the South Bay — San Jose is where he’s lived his entire adult life and has raised his family here.
Chu immigrated to California from Taiwan in the late 1970s to study electrical engineering at Cal State, Northridge. He worked at IBM for 18 years and opened a celebrated Chinese restaurant near the Winchester Mystery House in 1987 with his wife Daisy.
The couple, who have have two adult children, offered daily dim sum lunch and dinner service for 20 years until 2007 when Chu became the first Chinese-American elected to the San Jose Council. He went on to become an Assemblyman representing District 25 in 2014. He finished first in a four-way race in the March primary for the District 3 seat on the Board of Supervisors.
Affordable housing and economic recovery
Leading up to the primary, before the coronavirus pandemic, Chu told San José Spotlight he believes Santa Clara County needs to invest more in housing vouchers and rapid re-housing programs to prevent people who are teetering on the brink of housing insecurity from becoming homeless. Chu also championed greater investments in social services, including mental health programs and addiction treatment as means of prevention.
The effects of the virus on the economy have made those needs more acute and highlighted the root cause of many of the social problems Silicon Valley had before the pandemic, he said.
“As we are working on solving the problems in front of our faces — homelessness and affordable housing, the digital divide, access to health care and child care — we need to also have to look at the underlying cause of those issues which is income inequality,” Chu said.
“To have a meaningful recovery we will need to have assistance from the state and federal government and I will use all my resources and the relationships that I have there to make sure that people in Santa Clara County share in the recovery equitably and make sure that our poorest residents don’t get left behind,” he said.
A ‘true ally’
San Jose Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco ran against Chu in the March primary. After finishing third in that race, Carrasco threw her support behind the Assemblyman when he showed himself to be a “tried and true ally,” in the Assembly to people suffering the health and economic consequences of the pandemic.
“This is such an important election at every level,” Carrasco said. “What happens in November up and down the ballot is going to have deep and lasting impacts for generations to come.”
Whoever wins the District 3 seat will need to be able to “hit the ground running,” and Chu can do that, Carrasco said.
“The county plays such an important role in how we are going to recover and move forward after COVID,” Carrasco said. “We need someone at the county level who has advocated tirelessly for public health and safety, housing, transit and the environment at both the state and local level.”
According to campaign finance reports, Chu has raised $219,113 and spent $231,513 this year until Sept. 19.
His fundraising is the subject of a complaint being investigated by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).
The complaint alleges Chu violated the Political Reform Act by using his campaign for Assembly to flout the contribution limits on candidates for supervisor.
Chu denies any wrongdoing.
“I’ve got nothing to hide,” Chu told the San José Spotlight in August. “The FPPC is (looking) into it, but I’ve got nothing to hide.”
IN HIS OWN WORDS
“What’s the most important lesson you learned in 2020 and how has it prepared you for this role?”
AT A GLANCE
In one sentence, why vote for you? “With 30 years of community service experience, I have dedicated 14 years of my life as a full-time public servant, I am experienced, committed and ready to lead the county for a speedy economic recovery.”