National and state leaders endorse San Jose’s fair elections initiative
Assemblymember Kansen Chu spoke at San Jose City Hall Friday in support of the Fair Elections Initiative. Photo by Katie Lauer.

State and national lawmakers from Silicon Valley gathered in front of San Jose City Hall on Friday to announce their support for an initiative top labor leaders in the South Bay say will put a cap on money in politics and increase voter turnout by shifting mayoral elections to presidential years.

The measure, called the fair elections initiative, has secured support from top politicians across the state including Congressmembers Zoe Lofgren, Ro Khanna and Anna Eshoo as well as State Sen. Jim Beall and Assemblymembers Evan Low, Ash Kalra, Bob Wieckowski and Kansen Chu.

Chu said he “fully embraced” the measure at the news conference Friday, adding that the initiative would increase democracy if enacted. Many political experts agree, saying the potential measure can boost voter participation by at least 30 to 35 percent.

“I have worked very, very hard with my colleagues to increase voter turnout, to increase voter registration, because democracy works faster when more people are involved,” said Chu. “As a San Jose resident for the last 41 years, anything that we can do to improve our city is important, and this initiative will give the people of San Jose an opportunity to say whether they want to have the mayoral election coincide with the presidential election. It is a fact that people come out at a much higher rate.”

Local labor advocates have been pushing for support among the community and local politicians for months ahead of next year’s election cycle. A poll conducted by EMC Research released last month showed that 80 percent of likely San Jose voters backed the initiative. If leaders secure enough support, they have until March to collect the required 36,000 signatures they need to put the measure on the 2020 ballot.

The labor-backed initiative would prohibit mayoral and City Council candidates from accepting donations from lobbyists, anyone who’s received city contracts equaling more than $250,000 and large residential or for-profit developers. It would also move mayoral elections to presidential years in an effort to attract a higher concentration of voters, particularly minorities and communities of color. If enacted into law, the merger of the mayoral and presidential election could go into effect as early as 2024.

San Jose Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez, Raul Peralez, Maya Esparza and Magdalena Carrasco have also voiced their support for the measure, along with Santa Clara County Board of Supervisor Dave Cortese, who said the initiative is “near and dear” to his heart.

“We’re all here because we recognize that the current system isn’t working,” Cortese said. “Democracy is built on the idea that we have all have an equal say. However, our mayoral elections are held on years that guarantee a low turnout of voters. That turnout disproportionately affects certain people — it means that the voices of women, young people and communities of color go unheard.”

Esparza added that the timing of an election can hurt working families and communities of color trying to make ends meet, if they have to request time off to participate in the electoral process.

“Voters who turn out in greater numbers for presidential elections are disproportionately communities of color from our immigrant communities and from our youth who are working families struggling to make ends meet,” Esparza said. “Time off to research propositions, candidates, time off from multiple jobs to go vote, can become a burden. What these people need is a government that is responsive to their needs.”

Despite the amount of support the initiative has garnered from state and national lawmakers, many local leaders say the potential ballot measure distracts voters from San Jose’s local issues and challenges. In April, Mayor Sam Liccardo told San José Spotlight he supports a stronger voter turnout, but does not want the initiative to distract voters with “the chronic dysfunction of national politics.”

There are about 434,000 registered voters in the city and only 36 percent voted for mayor during the most recent mayoral election. However, 81 percent voted on local policy measures during the 2016 presidential election.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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