Article courtesy of Lorraine Gabbert / Almaden Times
Candidates for state Senate in District 15 faced off this week on issues ranging from education to housing at a debate hosted by the Almaden Valley Community Association.
The candidates included former California Assemblymember Nora Campos, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ken Del Valle, paratransit operator Tim Gildersleeve, San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis and former Federal Election Commission Chair Ann Ravel.
Doug Yoder stood in for candidate Robert Howell.
Campos said she’s running for the Senate to finish the work she started on the San Jose City Council and in Sacramento. In the Assembly, she championed pay equity and authored a bill that allows San Jose to build unconventional tiny homes for the homeless. The first tiny homes community is at Mabury Road along the transit corridor.
Cortese co-chaired the campaign for Measure A’s $950 million housing bond — $700 million of which is dedicated to extremely low-income housing — and provided 2,000 units for the homeless.
Del Valle, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, said his understanding of fiscal responsibility will serve him well in politics. Inspired by San Diego’s success in reducing homelessness, he would make this his primary focus if voters send him to Sacramento.
Gildersleeve said that Jesus Christ’s example of serving others inspires him to serve. Pro-union and pro-environment, Gildersleeve believes tuition-free education, universal health care and housing are human rights.
Howell considers himself a “citizen statesman” and an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, Yoder said. He founded the Tea Party of Silicon Valley and identifies homelessness as the most compelling problem facing San Jose.
Khamis views himself as a strong, independent voice at San Jose City Hall. He has focused on fiscal accountability, preserving open space in Coyote Valley and public safety.
Ravel considers herself the most qualified candidate as she’s served in all levels of government, saying she has written legislation that’s passed with bipartisan support.
Although all the candidates agreed that teachers are underpaid and education needs to be a priority, they differ on how to improve it.
Campos said every school needs a top-notch STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow. Cortese said he’s proud of creating 200 homework centers in the county and bringing counseling services to schools.
Del Valle believes public schools can succeed if funding is provided, while Gildersleeve called out California’s public schools as being poor in per-pupil spending — 41st in the nation — and says voters might need to intervene to ensure adequate funding.
Khamis said too much funding is spent on administration and duplicated services at the 19 school districts in San Jose. Ravel blamed teachers’ low salaries on their retirement funding coming out of school budgets.
Yoder said Howell is a proponent of charter schools and parent choice.
When asked what to do with the state’s $22 billion budget surplus, Campos suggested spending it on education and housing.
“Teachers are leaving because they can’t afford to live here,” she said. “Designate money to cities dedicated to housing for teachers.”
Cortese noted that the $22 billion is a reserve against an economic downturn.
“You can’t budget to the best year, but to the mean,” he said.
Gildersleeve favors taxation, while saving some money for pension liabilities, transportation and housing funding. Khamis said the state saved billions by emptying out prisons, but reneged on its promise of rehabilitation.
“When people leave prison, if they’re not given a job or drug addiction programs, they’re going to do the same thing they went to jail for, or become homeless,” Khamis said. “What are their options? The state is failing on this. We need to do more.”
Ravel said tech companies like Apple don’t pay their fair share of property taxes.
The candidates were divided over High Speed Rail funding.
Campos, Cortese, Gildersleeve and Ravel indicated support for high-speed rail, saying it is essential for alleviating traffic, housing and climate damage.
“People come here to work from the central valley where there aren’t enough jobs,” Ravel said. “They shouldn’t have to be in traffic for three hours. We need to invest in transportation.”
Cortese indicated support if the state can fund it.
“I don’t think high-speed rail, if we had the federal funding to help build it … would be a waste of money or a bad idea,” Cortese said. “The problem is the state doesn’t have the money … and the federal government hasn’t had a transportation authorization bill in years.”
Khamis, however, said the governor took SB 1 funding earmarked for highways for high-speed rail through an executive order.
“That’s not where taxpayers were told the money would be spent,” he said.
Yoder was more succinct in his answer: “Hell no,” he said about the rail system. “It’s a complete waste of money.”
Contact Almaden Times Senior Staff Writer Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]