As one might expect for an open legislative seat, the race to replace termed-out state Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, has attracted a large field -- eight candidates, including Menlo Park City Councilman Peter Ohtaki.
In California's open primary system for state legislative offices, the names of all eight will appear on all ballots, and the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation will face off in the general election in November.
While the eight candidates would each bring unique qualities and experience to the job, we believe three Democratic attorneys -- Mike Kasperzak, Marc Berman and Vicki Veenker -- are the clear standouts.
Measured only by the depth and breadth of political and governmental experience, 14-year Mountain View City Council veteran Mike Kasperzak, 62, would be the hands-down choice. He has been a dedicated and hard-working council member and is respected at both the regional and state level. An attorney who specialized in mediation, his orientation is toward problem-solving and building consensus, and he has devoted most of his adult life to public service. While we haven't always agreed with him on local issues, such as his position favoring the VTA's express lane proposal for El Camino Real, his values and priorities have been sound.
Marc Berman, 36, finishing up his first four-year term on the Palo Alto City Council, has been active in politics since college and has built strong connections with the local Democratic party. Uninspired by corporate law practice, he shifted gears two years ago and has been the development director for the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, a resource and advocacy group seeking innovation in public education, especially in STEM fields.
Vicki Veenker, 53, is a respected Silicon Valley intellectual property attorney, mediator and Palo Alto resident who has never held public office. She has chosen to focus her public service on advocating for the legal rights of low-income and other vulnerable local residents through the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, where she has served on the board of directors for 13 years and as board president for one term. She also helped start the first professional women's soccer league, reflecting her commitment to expanding opportunities for women.
All three have similar traditional Democratic political views, although the nuances of their positions on policy issues will likely come into greater focus when only two are vying in the fall.
With the exception of high-speed rail, which Kasperzak still supports but Berman and Veenker do not, all three identify increases in education funding at all levels, universal preschool, transportation infrastructure spending, climate change, affordable housing and transportation as priorities. They each support the legalization of recreational marijuana use (assuming appropriate state regulations) and increased state funding of affordable housing through tax incentives and bond measures.
Kasperzak and Berman are classic local elected officials seeking higher office. There are many Bermans and Kasperzaks in Sacramento, appropriately so.
But we believe Veenker is the rare candidate whose lack of experience as an elected official is outweighed by a unique combination of a strong legal background in a highly technical field, well-oiled advocacy and negotiating skills and a passion for public policy and social justice.
Without the visibility or limelight of elective office she has devoted much time and energy to the Law Foundation, a legislative-reform advocacy group that provides pro bono legal services to individuals facing housing and other forms of discrimination, and obstacles to obtaining access to health care and mental health services.
We also strongly believe in the importance of electing more women to state and federal offices. Women currently make up just one-quarter of the state Legislature in California, barely above the national average and much lower than in Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona. That's shameful in a state like California.
We look forward to the campaign narrowing to two candidates and a sharpened debate on the issues in the fall, and we recommend Vicki Veenker as a uniquely qualified candidate who would bring a fresh and important perspective to Sacramento.