Joe Simitian, a South Bay and Peninsula political stalwart, is running to succeed Anna Eshoo in Congress.
Simitian, 70, is in his second stint as a Santa Clara County supervisor. He has long had his eye on a run for a seat in the House of Representatives, but declined to compete against Eshoo, who he supports and considers a friend.
With last month’s announcement by Eshoo that she will retire at the end of her 2024 term following 30 years in office, Simitian was one of the first to officially declare his candidacy for the seat.
He has 40 years of experience in local and state government, and said his motivation for seeking another public office is the same as always.
“There’s only one reason to run and that’s to improve the lives of the people you represent. That’s what I have done in office to date and that’s what I’ll do in Congress,” Simitian told San José Spotlight. “It will require both a willingness to stand up, speak out and push back when necessary, but also a willingness and ability to work across the aisle when that’s possible.”
Simitian said a big part of his pitch to voters is his experience, noting that in his career of local and state politics, he has served 14 of the 15 cities and towns in California’s 16th congressional district.
He started his career in 1983, serving as a Palo Alto Unified School District board member, and then served on the Palo Alto City Council, where he also held the post of mayor. He served his first stint on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors from 1997 to 2000, and was then elected to the state Assembly. After serving two Assembly terms, he ran successfully for state Senate in 2004, where he served until terming out in 2012.
Voters elected Simitian back to the board of supervisors in 2012 and re-elected him in 2016 and 2020.
“Congress is in disarray, the nation is divided. I think this is a good time for someone who can be a steady hand, who has a record of accomplishment even in difficult circumstances,” Simitian said. “I won’t add to the crazy. I will go there to do the work.”
Simitian said he has shown an ability to “look around corners,” grab onto issues and not let go until they are seen through and real impact is made.
He pointed to some of his successful pieces of legislation, including a law to help establish transitional kindergarten in California in 2010, and a law to require hands-free use of cell phones while driving in 2006. He has championed teacher housing, mental health support, clean energy initiatives and led the charge to ensure the Lehigh Cement Plant, a repeat environmental offender, will remain closed forever.
To get to Congress, he’ll need to convince voters he’s the right person for the job in a crowded field of candidates, including well-known Democrats state Assemblymember Evan Low and former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
Also in the race are Palo Alto City Councilmember Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Marine and tech founder Peter Dixon, former Saratoga Mayor Rishi Kumar and climate investor Joby Bernstein. Former Menlo Park Mayor Peter Ohtaki and candidate Karl Ryan— the only Republicans in the race—are also running for the seat.
In addition to his long track record as an elected official, Simitian has been fundraising in anticipation of running for Congress for more than a decade. In 2009, Simitian established the Friends of Simitian campaign committee, which has taken in donations every year since.
As of the end of September, the account had about $680,000 on hand, the largest war chest announced by a candidate so far. While the money may help his effort, Simitian said he thinks in a primary roughly three months away, his experience as a seasoned elected official is what will make the difference.
Mike Wasserman, a longtime former colleague who retired from the board of supervisors in 2022, said Simitian is perfectly suited for the role.
“Joe is an incredible leader and learner,” Wasserman told San José Spotlight. “You need to be able to listen, you need to be able to ask tough questions, you need to be able to make intelligent analysis, and then you need to be able to vote your mind and Joe can do that.”
Wasserman is one of more than 150 local current and former elected officials endorsing Simitian. He said Simitian’s vast experience means he won’t be intimidated by the magnitude of the role when he gets to Washington, D.C.
“He is fearless,” Wasserman said. “When you get to the federal level, there are a lot of heavyweights who have been there for a long time, and Joe will stand up to anyone.”