The Assembly candidate who surprised Silicon Valley: A sitdown with Bob Brunton
Despite his low profile, Assembly candidate Bob Brunton beat eight others in a crowded Silicon Valley legislative race. Photo courtesy of Bob Brunton.

As votes were tallied on Super Tuesday, many political observers weren’t sure who would take the lead in Silicon Valley’s crowded Assembly District 25 race. But most probably did not suspect Bob Brunton.

And by Wednesday, many insiders were left scratching their heads. Brunton edged out his eight challengers with nearly 24 percent of the vote — as nearly 8,000 people voted for him.

“I think (Brunton) is definitely one of the surprises,” said Garrick Percival, a San Jose State University political science professor. “There’s still a lot of votes out there, so we could see some marginal changes — nothing is set in stone yet, but definitely we can start to see the patterns emerge.”

But who is Bob Brunton? We sat down with the 62-year-old business owner, former Ohlone Community College District Trustee and lone Republican in the race to learn more about his victory, platform and what it means to be a conservative in a liberal district. His answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How are you feeling today, having gained a comfortable lead in the race so far?

I take nothing for granted, so I’m really excited about the opportunity to move to the next step. And I’m already making preparations to do that. I’ll be reaching out to all my opponents and … seeing where I can build some coalitions with them. I think what’s important is that we’re just going to try to really represent this entire district, so I’m going to have to build a coalition with Democrats and Independents and the Decline to States and Libertarians and the greens.

We’ll find where we have some common ground.

Your campaign website talks about being independent quite a bit, so where do you fall in that political spectrum? 

I am a Republican, there’s no, if’s, and’s or but’s about it. The Republican Party, just like within the Democrat Party, there are different groups within their party, right? I consider myself… a progressive Republican. In other words, it’s kind of like combining the best of both parties of having limited government, and the freedom and opportunity the Republican Party believes in, but… the reality is… if we want limited government, we have to have unlimited love for our people, so helping charities to make sure we can reach the needy, making sure we have talked about accountability.

I’m trying to help rebuild the Republican Party from within. Some of my fellow Republicans have left the party. I’m not — I’m trying to fashion it in a very Silicon Valley way if we’re going to make this a rebirth.

Were you surprised when you saw the large lead you had last night?

Right, yes. I told my wife, ‘Maybe you get your husband back tomorrow.’ I take nothing for granted and I can promise you that I’m gonna be working every day from this point forward.

Can you tell me a little bit about your campaign? How will you try to stand out?

We’re going to be rolling out every week a new idea, a new plan, very issues-oriented, very positive about making a better future. … I’m not going to blame the past for what’s happened. From that day forward, it’s like, ‘Okay, I’ve got these problems and I’m going to find out what’s true or not true and work toward making mass transit better, making education better, making lower taxes and making our government more respectful of us as citizens.

What would you say are your top three issues in this campaign?

I’m going to be coming up with a list of 30 things I want to do to improve our district and our state without raising overall taxes, and I’ve tried to narrow it down, but the best I could do is narrow it down to four things.

One, certainly we can dramatically improve education. It is the single largest budget item in the state, it’s 54% of our budget that goes to education. So clearly we have to use our money smarter and wiser, because if we have students being left behind, you’re going to see lots of issues in that regard.

Second area is mass transit reforms and improving mass transit. There’s a relationship with these traffic issues and housing issues, but mass transit seems to be an area where we have 24 agencies in the Bay Area and they don’t work well together and we only have two that have elected boards.

The third area is civil justice reform. So many of our core problems are based upon our poor civil justice system. And just reform also means changing some of the regulations that are so long and so difficult and too expensive to comply with.

The fourth thing, finally, and I think maybe even the most important, is what I would call the respect our government gives to us. I think our state government has become very arrogant and all they ever talk about is give us more money, taxes, and they never talk about how are we going to improve our services? How are we going to be more respectful to you?

I don’t see any endorsements on your campaign website. Tell me about your endorsements.

I’ve actually been very limited in accepting endorsements. I have lots of supporters, but… here’s the rule I had about endorsements. I will not accept an endorsement that you have not talked to my opponent about. Whoever my opponent ends up being, if we go to the chamber of commerce or the labor groups or whatever organization, I’m going to be asking them two questions: Do you have an open mind about me and do you have an open mind about my opponent?

Brunton will likely face off in November with policy advisor Alex Lee, who had netted about 16 percent of the vote by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

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

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