Milpitas Councilmember Anthony Phan joins Assembly race
McCarthy Ranch Spring Center groundbreaking event at McCarthy Ranch in San Jose, California, on November 2, 2018. (Stan Olszewski/SOSKIphoto)

Another Milpitas politician is yearning to go to Sacramento.

Milpitas Councilmember Anthony Phan filed papers Wednesday to run for an open California Assembly seat in District 25, a contest that has now garnered interest from every single member of the Milpitas council — except Bob Nunez.

But Phan, 26, told San José Spotlight in an exclusive interview that he’s got what it takes to influence policy at the state’s Capitol, pointing to his accomplishments during one term on the council. He was elected in 2016 and would face re-election in 2020.

“I looked at the list of candidates running and I asked myself would I vote for any of them and I had a hard time answering that,” Phan said. “I didn’t think their platforms touched on the issues that matter the most to residents — which is jobs, transportation and housing. I was not compelled by the campaigns that are being run right now so I decided to throw my name in the race.”

Phan, who runs his own land use consultancy firm, said he brings a “wealth of experience in local government” to the table and would support bold statewide solutions to Silicon Valley’s most pressing problems, similar to San Francisco Democrat Sen. Scott Wiener and his landmark housing policies. Locally, he said, Milpitas passed legislation to restructure the public hearing process, compel housing developers to put aside affordable housing and make it easier to build.

“Despite the controversies you might read about, we have done a lot of good things in Milpitas that I’m very proud of,” he said, adding that in Sacramento, he would push for legislation that compels other cities to do their fair share to produce housing. “That’s the bold leadership that we really need to address this housing crisis and it can’t be on the weight of just a few cities to tackle everyone else’s problem.”

Other contenders in the race include South Bay attorney and West Valley Mission Community College District Trustee Anne KepnerSanta Clara County Board of Education Trustee Anna Song, Santa Clara Unified School District Trustee Jim Canova, Milpitas Councilmember Carmen Montano, San Jose policy advisor Alex Lee, former Ohlone College trustee Bob Brunton and newcomer Natasha Gupta.

The 25th Assembly district encompasses Fremont, Newark, Milpitas, San Jose and Santa Clara.

Phan began his political career as a far-left progressive, loyally aligning himself with labor unions and their interests. In recent years, however, he has shifted to the right — embracing business-backed groups, including the California Apartment Association. It’s a change he acknowledges — though he prefers to call himself a “pragmatic realist” — and says he shed his “idealistic” values in an attempt to reach compromise with other lawmakers.

And some might wonder if Phan is serious about his run for Assembly, given his bids to explore running for Santa Clara County supervisor and county assessor in recent years.

“The difference between this time and all the other times when I was exploring is that I have actually filed the paperwork — that’s as much a commitment as you really need,” he said. “Every time I have indicated interest in running for one position or another, I do the research and I fully assess the workload and I ask myself at the end of the day, ‘Do I really want to do this?’ and clearly I didn’t for the other positions. With this, my heart is in it.”

In Milpitas, four out of five councilmembers — including Mayor Rich Tran — announced running for the Assembly District 25 seat only to later pull out. Only Montano remains in the race.

Phan and Tran had a public falling out last year after a controversial mailer linking the mayor to Vietnamese communism emerged and was linked to a PAC run by Phan. Phan later apologized, and the pair have mended the relationship — for now.

Still, Tran had endorsed Montano and Song, and says he won’t be endorsing anyone else.

“I will not be endorsing any other candidates because I think two is good enough and we’re getting close to March,” Tran said Wednesday. “Anthony understands that our relationship has moved forward a lot and he knows that if there’s anything I can do support him, then I will.”

Tran added that he believes his colleague can become a formidable contender in the crowded race.

“Anthony understands how to win campaigns and he’s very well connected to his network and he can raise money,” the mayor said. “So I think any candidate who has those qualities, they’ll be competitive and certainly, ones to consider.”

Contact Ramona Giwargis at ramona@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

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