State legislative candidate faces pushback on critical ‘ballot designation’
Photo courtesy of the Josh Becker for State Senate campaign.

A Silicon Valley candidate for the California Legislature is facing criticism over the job titles he’s picked to appear on the ballot, with one hired law firm appealing to the California Secretary of State to look deeper for inaccuracies.

Josh Becker, who is running for the Senate District 13 seat being vacated by Sen. Jerry Hill next year, is defending his ballot designations, the few critical words that will appear next to his name on the upcoming primary election ballot. He got the OK from the Secretary of State this week to place the designations “Educator/ Non-Profit Director” on the March 3 primary ballot, he told San José Spotlight in an email Wednesday.

But Los Angeles-based law firm, Kaufman Legal Group, is pushing back. Gary Winuk, the attorney who sent the letter to the state elections office last week, claimed the term “educator” doesn’t accurately describe Becker’s primary work, as required by law. Becker’s LinkedIn profile shows he is a member of the California Workforce Development Board, an employee of a local nonprofit and the chairman of IP litigation research company Lex Machina.

“The whole purpose of all this is to not be misleading,” Winuk said. “A lot of times, all people see is someone’s ballot designation, and they may not read the flood of political mail that comes. So… that’s why the law says it needs to be accurate and not misleading.”

Becker on Wednesday stood by his designations, noting they were approved by the state.

Winuk was hired to look into Becker’s ballot designations by a client he declined to name, but he said such requests are common. Indeed, a 2018 CALmatters report outlined how these important designations draw complaints and litigation every two years. The approved ballot designations for candidates will become public Friday, kicking off a seven-day appeal period before the documents go to the printer, Winuk said.

Becker’s Ballot Designation Worksheet — a publicly available document filled out to identify and justify job titles on the ballot — states that he is an adjunct faculty member at the San Mateo County Community College District. But Winuk argues that shouldn’t be on the ballot.

“We are informed that Mr. Becker has not taught a class at the college this year,” Winuk’s letter to the state says. “Even if he had, this would not be considered a ‘principal’ profession, occupation or vocation.”

His other role, of “Non-Profit Director,” also appears on the worksheet. Becker wrote on the worksheet “I work for the non-profit called the Full Circle Fund,” and under his title, wrote “Director, Community Building.”

Becker currently serves on the organization’s board of directors and is a part-time employee working on community building and business development, according to the organization’s CEO Jason Hirschton. Becker co-founded Full Circle Fund in 2000.

Winuk’s letter doesn’t touch on the nonprofit director position, which was an alternate option to Becker’s first choice of “County Commissioner.”

Heidi Diamond, dean of San Mateo College’s Business and Technology division, confirmed to San José Spotlight Wednesday that Becker is part of the college’s Adjunct Faculty Pool for the business program and was hired Aug. 12. Adjunct Faculty Pool members may be asked to teach classes, give presentations or substitute for other faculty members.

“At this point the work (Becker) has done with us has been as guest presenter,” Diamond said. “This is a relatively new appointment for him.”

Becker said the Secretary of State was aware of the challenge to his job titles and asked him to clarify his education work.

In response, Becker told the state he’s leading a series of workshops as an adjunct faculty member and noted that he connects tech professionals with education nonprofits in his work with Full Circle Fund. He also serves on the executive committee of the University of California Merced Foundation Board of Trustees.

“I was honored to receive the Jefferson Award for Volunteerism for my commitment to education,” he added.

He then received approval for his ballot designation, Becker told San José Spotlight.

Initially, Becker had aimed to place the designation “Educator/County Commissioner” next to his name on the ballot. Winuk had also pushed back on the ‘Commissioner’ title, saying Becker’s role as a member of the San Mateo County Childcare Partnership Council was neither a commissioner role nor a “principal” position.

As of Wednesday, that first-choice designation was not set to appear next to Becker’s name on the ballot. The Menlo Park resident and Senate candidate has been endorsed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom and reporting by the Palo Alto Daily Post shows he’s made strong strides in fundraising. He faces four other candidates in the March 3 primary election.

Senate District 13 includes much of San Mateo County and the northern portion of Santa Clara County.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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