For the first time in two decades, a Silicon Valley congressmember is set to retire and shake up the South Bay’s political landscape — with many local Democrats reportedly eyeing the seat.
Multiple sources in Sacramento and Silicon Valley told San José Spotlight Monday night that Rep. Anna Eshoo plans to end her three-decade congressional career at the end of her term in 2024. Eshoo confirmed she won’t seek reelection in an interview with this news organization Tuesday morning. She also posted a video on social media with the announcement.
“I’m looking over my shoulder with enormous gratitude,” Eshoo told San José Spotlight. “I made the announcement right before Thanksgiving because it is such a beautiful season. It is a season of thanks. My entire season is full of thanks — and that’s to three decades of constituents because they’ve placed their trust in me. They’ve trusted me every two years. This has been an enormous honor, a great privilege.”
Eshoo earlier this year prepared to run for reelection — but as she reflected on the journey late in bed one night, the 80-year-old lawmaker realized it’s time to say goodbye. When she broke the news to her family, they immediately assumed the decision was sparked by the current divide in Congress.
“I said absolutely not,” Eshoo quickly replied. “I’m not running away from anything. This is the time for me.”
Eshoo, 80, who earned recognition for spearheading cybersecurity, innovation and high-tech legislation, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992 after serving on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors for a decade.
Her retirement marks a monumental shift in Silicon Valley politics. Eshoo is a powerhouse politician who rose through the ranks as a senior member earning coveted committee assignments in Washington on health care, energy and commerce.
Veteran Congressmember Zoe Lofgren was among the first to learn about Eshoo’s retirement — along with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Eshoo swore her colleagues to secrecy.
“What she shared with me is that there’s a voice inside her that said it’s time,” Lofgren told San José Spotlight in an interview. “And when that happens you listen to that voice. People were speculating this is because the majority we have now is nuts — and they are — but that’s not the reason. She felt it was her time to do this.”
Lofgren called Eshoo one of her “best friends” in the House and lauded her groundbreaking record on health care and digital privacy bills. “She is the kind of person every member of Congress should be like,” she added.
Candidates eyeing Congress
As news spread about Eshoo’s decision to call it quits late Monday, speculation circled about who will run for the competitive seat to represent District 16.
The district includes a large swath of Santa Clara County, including parts of San Jose, and San Mateo County. Eshoo did not respond to a request for comment.
Candidates rumored for the seat include California Sen. Josh Becker, Assemblymember Evan Low, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
A source close to Low confirmed he will run for the seat. The source said a formal announcement is coming soon after Thanksgiving. Low remained tight lipped Tuesday and said he’s mulling his options.
“Any person who follows in her footsteps must commit themselves completely to upholding her incredible legacy,” Low told San José Spotlight. “Today, I’m going to celebrate one of our valley’s greatest public servants and a personal mentor to me.”
Becker said Silicon Valley should take a moment to appreciate Eshoo and her distinguished career before rushing to replace her. He is still weighing his options, sources told San José Spotlight. The first-term legislator would have to vacate his seat in Sacramento to make the leap.
Becker said late Monday he has “tremendous respect” for the veteran congressmember.
“She is a combination we’ve never seen before of warmth, strength and effectiveness,” the senator told San José Spotlight on Monday. “She’s so hard working, and with the utmost integrity and love of America and our institutions. Let’s take a moment to celebrate her years of service before we rush to find her successor.”
Simitian also praised Eshoo’s accomplishments. He has not been shy about his intentions to run for Congress.
“We ought to take some time to say thank you to Anna Eshoo for tremendous service throughout the course of her career,” Simitian said. “The attention ought to be on Anna and her contributions to the region.”
Simitian has already pulled papers to run for the seat, joining former Saratoga Mayor Rishi Kumar, climate investor Joby Bernstein and Republicans former Menlo Park Mayor Peter Ohtaki and candidate Karl Ryan. The filing deadline is Dec. 8.
Simitian confirmed Monday that a “formal announcement” about his candidacy is coming. San José Spotlight reported the longtime supervisor had launched a campaign committee to explore a congressional run more than a decade ago and raised about $600,000 as of December.
Liccardo, another rumored candidate, said he needs to chat with his wife and family before he decides to jump into the fray.
‘Regardless of whether I run,” the former San Jose mayor said, “I want to ensure that Silicon Valley has a champion in Washington ready to tackle our most critical issues, like homelessness, crime, housing affordability, and innovation.”
Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna called Eshoo a personal mentor. He said she encouraged him to run for office after he campaigned against the Iraq war in 2003.
“She also helped me build a relationship with Speaker Pelosi. It’s an incredible loss for the Bay Area,” Khanna told San José Spotlight. “Anna will be remembered for helping shape the innovation agenda for the Democratic Party, securing funding for research and development, and being helping in Speaker Pelosi’s rise and tenure as her closest confidant.”
Khanna added that Eshoo’s departure underscores the need for the generation of fresh leadership from Silicon Valley.
Former Congressman Mike Honda told San José Spotlight he heard about Eshoo’s planned retirement late Monday. The news caught him by surprise, he said.
“She’s been successful at the local and state level as Zoe (Lofgren) and myself had been,” Honda said. “It was a situation where she wants to figure out if she wants to spend another two years in Congress with the crazy leadership.”
Eshoo is of Assyrian and Armenian heritage. She joined other congressional leaders this month to call on Israel to implement a temporary humanitarian pause in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. The pause would minimize harm and enable aid to reach civilians, she said.
“We share Secretary Blinken’s view that a humanitarian pause is a ‘critical mechanism for protecting civilians while enabling Israel to achieve its objective of defeating Hamas,'” Eshoo and her colleagues said in a statement.
Among other accomplishments, Eshoo has championed efforts to defend consumers, promote clean energy technology and protect the environment.
Joby, one of the candidates who filed to run, said he wants to see bolder advocacy in Congress on climate change, immigration and education.
“The issues that I care about, we have five to 10 years to make a difference today,” the 28-year old candidate said.
Longtime political observer Larry Gerston said Eshoo’s retirement has sent shockwaves in political circles. Other analysts said it will be the “wild west” in Silicon Valley as politicos clamor to succeed Eshoo — opening other Silicon Valley political seats, such as Low’s spot in the Assembly.
In what’s anticipated to be the most contested and closely watched race this season, Gerston predicts Eshoo’s endorsement could be a deciding factor.
“We just don’t see openings like this very often,” Gerston told San José Spotlight. “The last thing an elected official wants to do is be defeated. And I’m not suggesting that she would have been at all, but why take any chances.”
Lofgren said Silicon Valley politicians need to focus on Eshoo’s legacy — instead of jockeying over who will replace her.
“Today is not the day to make that decision — there will be plenty of time for people to throw their hat in the ring,” Lofgren said. “I would appreciate if people would just back off and give this a few days. Today is the day to celebrate her service to her country.”