South Bay consumer attorney Anne Kepner, who’s served five years on the West Valley-Mission Community College Board, is running for an open Assembly seat in what’s shaping up to be one of the most closely-watched races this fall.
Kepner, 50, last week joined the race to succeed Kansen Chu in Assembly District 25, which covers Newark, Fremont, San Jose, Santa Clara and Milpitas. Chu is vacating his seat to run for Santa Clara County supervisor.
“Through my legal career, I’ve been active in advocating for changes in the law I thought were important in Sacramento,” Kepner told San José Spotlight on Tuesday. “So when this seat became open I began to consider if this is the opportunity for me. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and watching the field of candidates and decided this is an opportunity for me to step out of line and offer myself up in a greater capacity than I’m doing currently.”
The news comes as Milpitas Vice Mayor Karina Dominguez on Saturday ended her Assembly campaign. The remaining candidates in the race are Santa Clara County Board of Education Trustee Anna Song, Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustee Jim Canova, San Jose policy advisor Alex Lee and newcomer Natasha Gupta.
Kepner, who considers herself a progressive Democrat, plans to focus her campaign on protecting public education, bolstering housing and championing social services for the state’s most vulnerable residents. She was born in Connecticut, but her family moved to San Jose when she was five years old after her father took a job at Intel.
Three years later, Kepner’s parents divorced — a life experience that cemented the importance of public education.
“I reflect back on my life and when my mom became a single mom raising two girls and how critical it was for her to continue her education so she can provide opportunities for my sister and I,” Kepner said. “The barriers we see today didn’t exist back then because education was more affordable and housing wasn’t the issue it is today. There are so many barriers to people improving and furthering their lives and we need to do better in California to help working families.”
Kepner, who got her first taste of politics working for former Assemblyman Dom Cortese, was appointed to another 4-year term on the college board last December because she had no opponents. Kepner beat out former San Jose Councilmember Pete Constant in her 2014 race for the West Valley-Mission community college board.
Longtime political scientist Garrick Percival said the race for the open seat in Assembly District 25 is expected to be a fairly competitive one. Kepner, who’s worked as an attorney for 25 years and is now a partner at Needham, Kepner & Fish, jumping into the fray will certainly shake things up.
“With Anne’s time on the board and her work as an attorney, she brings with her a set of professional experiences and very likely, a solid campaign network,” Percival said. “That should make her a formidable candidate.”
Kepner’s campaign is already off to a running start, reportedly raising a staggering $75,000 in one week. By comparison, early campaign fundraising totals released last month showed Lee in the lead with $20,188.
Adrienne Grey, who serves with Kepner on the West Valley-Mission college board, said Kepner is a strong advocate for public education. Kepner and Grey met after Kepner went through the Emerge California program, which recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office.
“It’s hard to find people who really understand the issue (of public education) and the concern over the privatization of education, the charter school movement and the big money behind it,” Grey said Tuesday. “Anne is not wishy washy. She’s concerned about it because she herself benefited from public schooling.”
And despite Silicon Valley’s reputation for its progressive politics, there are still no women from the South Bay in the state Legislature — something Kepner hopes to change.
“I really do think the conversation changes when we have a better representation of our community,” Kepner said. “I grew up in an era in San Jose when San Jose was considered the feminist capital of the world and then I looked up years later and we had very few women leaders. I see an opportunity to change that.”
Contact Ramona Giwargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.