With the state tied up in knots by an ineffective governor and a dysfunctional Legislature, it is difficult to imagine why anyone would volunteer for duty in Sacramento. But despite the budget mess and myriad other challenges, three candidates — Supervisor Rich Gordon, former Palo Alto City Council member Yoriko Kishimoto and businessman Josh Becker — are seeking the Democratic nomination for the 21st District Assembly seat now held by Ira Ruskin, who is termed out. Since Democrats far outnumber Republicans in the district, the Democratic primary winner is a cinch to win in November.
In part, it is the state's precarious situation that drives our decision to endorse Rich Gordon in this race, due to his 12 years of experience as a supervisor, an earlier stint on the county Board of Education and, before that, as CEO of Youth and Family Assistance, one of the county's top nonprofits. Another plus for Mr. Gordon is his serving two years as president of the state Association of Counties, where colleagues from both parties have endorsed his candidacy.
During his long tenure on the Board of Supervisors, Mr. Gordon has proven that he is a leader who can bring dueling sides together, a skill that is badly needed in Sacramento's caustic partisan battles. For example, several years ago he chaired a "very disparate" group that was working to advance a plan by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District to annex Coastside property, including many farms. After six months of meetings, a plan was approved, and now representatives of both sides have endorsed Mr. Gordon's candidacy.
Mr. Gordon has an exemplary environmental record, having worked on a sensible solution to the Devil's Slide tunnel. Closer to home, he has been a stalwart opponent of Stanford's effort to substitute a trail next to busy Alpine Road in San Mateo County for building a true nature trail across its lands in Santa Clara County. Stanford had promised to build a hiking trail as part of a deal with Santa Clara County for permission to develop 5 million square feet of new campus buildings over 25 years.
Although his opponents bring diverse backgrounds to the race, they simply do not have Mr. Gordon's experience or the political skills that he would bring to Sacramento. Ms. Kishimoto served eight years on the Palo Alto City Council, but she has not articulated a clear plan to resolve the state's problems.
Mr. Becker has never held public office, but fervently believes "green tech" and other venture initiatives can help pull the state out of trouble. But he came up short when asked to share his own practical solutions for the state's budget mess.
In contrast, Mr. Gordon supports raising revenue by reinstating the vehicle license fee and reviewing the "long-term fairness of Proposition 13" in a way that would not threaten the ability of senior citizens to stay in their homes. He also said that California is the only oil-producing state that does not impose an oil-extraction tax, an oversight he would work to correct.
Mr. Gordon said he would start a "conversation" about two other problem areas — the two-thirds majority in the Legislature required to pass a budget, and term limits — if he is sent to Sacramento. He believes that extending term limits would stop incoming Assembly members from immediately beginning to campaign for a state Senate seat when their three two-year terms expire. Instead, he would allow a legislator to serve in either house for up to 14 years.
We believe Rich Gordon is the best qualified candidate in this race and urge voters to endorse his candidacy for the 21st District Assembly seat on June 8.
>> Don Horsley for supervisor in District 3
In the first seriously contested election for a county supervisor in more than a decade, five candidates are vying to fill the seat held by departing member Rich Gordon.
Candidates must live in the district, but are elected county-wide, a challenge in this far-flung county, which runs from South San Francisco all the way to Santa Cruz County on the Coast. The five candidates make up the largest field seen in a race for supervisor in many years, and include:
• Don Horsley, the former sheriff and current member of the Sequoia Healthcare District board of directors.
• Jack Hickey, a perennial candidate and also a member of the Sequoia district board.
• Matt Grocott, a member of the San Carlos City Council.
• April Vargas, a legislative analyst and businesswoman who has served on the Midcoast Community Council.
• Michael Stogner, who bills himself as a victims advocate.
Don Horsley is our choice in this field, although Matt Grocott also impressed us with his no-nonsense approach to controlling public sector spending. And April Vargas would add a strong environmental voice to the board, as well as experience in many other issues.
As county sheriff from 1993 to 2007, Mr. Horsley oversaw a staff of 600 employees and was responsible for law enforcement in unincorporated areas of the county. In his current role as a board member of the Sequoia Health Care District, he helps distribute grants to local health-care agencies, which he hopes will help the county lower its health-care costs.
Mr. Horsley believes public employee pensions are contributing to the county's structural deficit, and he said that allowing public safety workers to retire at the age of 50, at 90 percent of their highest pay after 30 years of service, "is a bad policy" and should be rolled back. Although the pensions for current employees can't be touched, he said, the county can at least stop the "spiking" of retirement benefits — the practice of buying out unused sick time, vacation time and compensatory time to bump up the final salary upon which the pension is based.
On local issues, Mr. Horsley said he does not believe the Board of Supervisors should comment on Cargill's proposed 12,000-home development in Redwood City until the environmental review process is complete. And, he voiced support for the high-speed rail project, which he said would be good for the area's economy. And the trains would be an environmentally better way to move people up and down the state, he said.
While he lacks Mr. Horsley's years of county-wide experience, Mr. Grocott impressed us with his four-pronged plan to control spending, beginning with cuts in management after a careful review. "The next step would be to go to the departments and say we have the option of contracting out (a job), but to make the departments compete" in bidding for the job, he said. He added that such a practice was used in San Carlos, and city departments "found efficiencies" when they participated in the bidding process.
Nevertheless, Don Horsley wins our endorsement for the District 3 seat on the Board of Supervisors. He is a proven administrator and should be elected June 8.
>> Groom for supervisor in District 2
Former two-time mayor and San Mateo City Council member Carole Groom was appointed to the board in December 2008 to serve out the term of Jerry Hill, who was elected to the Assembly. Groom does not have a serious challenger in the race, although Daniel Kaul — who has not campaigned and canceled an interview with The Almanac — is listed on the ballot.
Carole Groom impressed us with her knowledge and concern about rising costs in the county budget, which is facing a $150 million structural deficit in the next three years. A former executive with the Mills Peninsula Hospital in Burlingame, Ms. Groom is an expert in the health care field, which is a large part of the county's business.
Carole Groom has proven herself after more than a year on the board, and we support her return to the District 2 seat.
>> Mandelkern for county treasurer
Local residents place a lot of trust in their county treasurer, who manages a portfolio of more than $2.5 billion made up of short- and long-term deposits from local governments and districts in the county.
With the retirement of Lee Buffington, the longtime treasurer who saw $155 million in county funds vanish when Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2007, for the first time in 25 years voters will elect a new treasurer.
Four candidates are running to take Mr. Buffington's place, including Joe Galligan, a certified public accountant and former Burlingame mayor and city council member; Sandie Arnott, deputy county treasurer; Richard Guilbault, an investment adviser; and Dave Mandelkern, an entrepreneur and community college district trustee
After reviewing questionnaires returned from all candidates, our choice is Dave Mandelkern, an experienced businessman who could be trusted with the huge county portfolio. For example, he believes the treasurer should set clear guidelines to deal with downgrades to investment ratings on securities, saying it was the county's lack of action when Lehman securities were being downgraded that led to the $155 million loss.
Mr. Mandelkern agrees with a report to the county Board of Supervisors after the Lehman collapse, which said that $2 billion is too large a sum for an individual to handle. He suggests that the county would benefit by the "redundancy and bench strength" of outside portfolio managers, and suggests that the county's fund could be pooled with an even larger fund to lower transaction costs.
These and other common-sense suggestions have convinced us that voters should elect Dave Mandelkern county treasurer on June 8.
>> Vote yes on Measure G
After being hit hard by state budget cuts, the San Mateo County Community College District is desperately trying to keep the doors open for the high school graduates and others who cannot afford to attend an expensive four-year college or university.
Measure G, an extremely modest $34 annual parcel tax, will help close the funding gap at the district's three campuses, including Canada College in Woodside.
We urge voters to support Measure G on June 8.