With California's open primary rules, established when voters approved Prop. 14 in 2010, the top two vote-getters in all partisan races, regardless of party affiliation, will face off in the November general election. For non-partisan county offices such as district attorney, sheriff and assessor, however, there won't be a runoff in November if one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the primary.
For Palo Alto voters, that means there will automatically be a runoff election In November for the congressional seat held by Democrat Anna Eshoo and the state Assembly seat held by Democrat Marc Berman, and it's highly likely in the Santa Clara County sheriff's race, where four major candidates are running with no incumbent.
In the county district attorney and assessor races, it is likely that incumbents Jeff Rosen and Larry Stone will exceed the 50% mark.
We are concerned that two incumbents, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and County Assessor Larry Stone, have been in office for 30 and 27 years respectively. These two have been reelected by overwhelming margins over the years because they are competent, hardworking and have served their constituents well. They are all but assured of being reelected again this year, in part because their continued service discourages others from running because of the advantages of incumbency, especially in fundraising.
But at ages 79 and 81, they should be creating opportunities and encouraging new candidates to follow in their footsteps and allow a new generation of leaders to represent us. If reelected, we hope that each will announce after the election their intention to retire when their new terms end so that there is plenty of time for good and diverse candidates, including women and people of color, to step forward to run for these important positions.
In the neighboring congressional district to the north, Rep. Jackie Speier is retiring at age 71 after serving for a distinguished 20 years in Washington. Her decision should serve as a model for others who are inclined to hang on to their offices, unconstrained by term limits.
For non-partisan offices such as sheriff, district attorney and assessor, we would strongly support the adoption of term limits that cap those officials' tenures to four, four-year terms.
Congress — Anna Eshoo and Ajwang Rading
As noted above, Anna Eshoo has been one of the most popular and successful elected officials ever to serve this region. In 14 reelection campaigns since her initial election in 1992, she has never faced a serious challenge. That is a tribute both to her excellent service and attentiveness to her constituents and the close alignment of her views with her Democratic district.
This year, perhaps because of an increasing belief that it may be time for her to step aside, or that she will do so in two years, Eshoo has seven challengers — three Republicans, three Democrats and an independent. With Eshoo almost certainly set to be the top vote-getter, the second-place finisher who will compete against her in November could get as little as 15% to 20% of the vote in the primary depending on how evenly spread out the voting is.
We hope Eshoo's opponent in November is Ajwang Rading, a Democrat and attorney at the Palo Alto-based firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati who has sparked a strong local following in support of his first bid for public office. Rading, 30, embraces a liberal Democratic platform that revolves around issues of social justice, climate change and universal health care.
A former staff member for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, Rading's background includes a stint at the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, the national organization founded by Bryan Stevenson. Rading, who is Black, was born in poverty in Los Angeles and says his childhood included spending nights in a 2001 Dodge Neon with his single mom, who immigrated from Kenya. He went on to graduate from college and law school at UCLA. He believes his upbringing and background would make him an effective advocate for boosting affordable housing, tackling income inequality in District 16 and championing other progressive issues.
His message and youthfulness is not unlike those of Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna, 45, a progressive Democrat who was elected in 2016 on his second try to unseat eight-term incumbent Democrat Mike Honda. In four years, Khanna has become a prominent member of the progressive wing of the party.
The other leading candidates in the race are Rishi Kumar, a tech executive who serves on the Saratoga City Council and who lost to Eshoo two years ago with 37% of the vote, and Peter Ohtaki, a Republican who served eight years on the Menlo Park City Council, is a financial executive for a tech firm, and ran unsuccessfully against Marc Berman in the 2020 Assembly race.
A general election campaign between Eshoo and Rading would be an inspiring match-up between an accomplished representative nearing the end of her career who has paved the way for countless other women to seek higher office and an idealistic and passionate young man of color just starting his political journey.
Santa Clara County Sheriff — Kevin Jensen
Facing a unanimous vote of no confidence last year by the Board of Supervisors, mounting investigations and possible removal from office, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith spared herself almost certain defeat this year by choosing not to run for a seventh term. So the good news is that a much-maligned and poorly managed Sheriff's department will finally have a new leader.
The sheriff oversees a budget of more than $188 million and 711 staff members (and an additional 1,080 staff and $200.6 million for the Department of Corrections).
Four major candidates, including Palo Alto Police Chief Bob Jonsen, a retired county Sheriff's Office captain and two current sergeants, are vying for the seat. Jonsen's primary appeal is that he has the administrative experience of having led both the Menlo Park and Palo Alto police departments.
Jonsen, 59, was police chief in Menlo Park for five years until being hired by Palo Alto in 2018. Jonsen may be a good administrator, but his consistent lack of transparency regarding police misconduct and routine police policy matters has cast a shadow on his ability to innovate and reform. Actions speak louder than words, and Jonsen has not shown the leadership that will be needed within the Sheriff's Office.
Former sheriff's captain and assistant chief of the Department of Corrections, Kevin Jensen, 58, retired in 2013 after 29 years with the Sheriff's Office. He ran unsuccessfully against Smith in 2014 and has since been doing law enforcement consulting, including training new recruits and managers. The two sergeants are Sean Allen, 51, a 32-year veteran, and Christine Nagaye, 50, who has been with the department for 20 years.
We recommend Kevin Jensen, who has had the benefit of rising through the ranks over 30 years in the sheriff's office but the perspective of his consulting work and being away from the troubled department for the last eight years. As a high-ranking administrator in the department who was willing to run against his boss and challenge her record, Jensen was not one who sat back and toed Smith's line.
During his tenure he was the liaison to the Stanford Department of Public Safety, county jail administration commander, court security division commander and administrative coroner. He was also the risk and information-sharing program manager for the Urban Area Security Initiative and was tasked with terrorism prevention, mitigation, response and recovery for the 12-county Bay Area region. In late 2012, he served as the initiative's statewide risk-program manager.
He has the support of the Santa Clara County Deputy Sheriffs' Association, Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers' Association, and multiple fire and police groups and individuals, including retired Palo Alto police Chief Dennis Burns.
He is best suited to take on the task of rebuilding the department and restoring the public's confidence in its operations. He sees an urgent need to reform the culture of the organization, a view that makes his support from the two unions all the more important.
The next sheriff will face a monumental challenge to improve transparency, accountability and communication after Smith's years of mismanagement. Jensen is clearly the best qualified candidate to succeed.
Santa Clara County District Attorney — Jeff Rosen
The county district attorney's office has over 600 employees and almost 200 attorneys, making it California's largest DA's office north of Los Angeles.
Jeff Rosen, 54, has served three terms as district attorney and ran unopposed in the last two elections, making this election the first time he has had to defend his record in a campaign. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer, jumping at opportunities to be visibly associated with popular progressive initiatives to step up prosecutions of sexual assault, increase the use of diversion programs to reduce the number of offenders in jail, reduce prosecutions in cases that create racial inequities and engage in more public outreach and education about the criminal justice system.
He is being challenged by two progressive candidates who don't think Rosen has gone far enough to implement reforms that recognize the vulnerability of the poor and people of color in the criminal justice system and is too focused on traditional models of incarceration.
Sajid Khan, 39, a public defender for the last 14 years, says he is the "true progressive" in the race and has focused on how racism permeates the system, the importance of ending the money bail system, not ever trying juveniles as adults and increasing diversion programs as an alternative to incarceration. His support of probation for Brock Turner, reflecting his belief that justice should be empathetic and not be measured by jail time, drew sharp criticism last year after Khan posted on social media about his concern for the survivors of sexual assault and the secondary trauma they suffer by the legal system.
Rosen's other opponent, is a prosecutor who was demoted and then fired by Rosen after writing an opinion piece in the Mercury News criticizing progressive prosecutors who would seek short sentences for violent crimes. Daniel Chung, 33, is now suing the county and seeking to unseat his former boss at the ballot box. He said criminal justice reforms are creating a revolving door for repeat offenders and the department's "hot potato" method of handling cases, by which cases get handled by multiple DAs, has led to long delays and is a disservice to crime victims.
In spite of these criticisms, Jeff Rosen has modernized the operation of the DA's office and implemented many important reforms. His greatest accomplishment may be the diversification of his prosecutors so they better reflect the community. Half the attorneys are women and more than 40% are people of color or LGBTQ individuals. He has implemented numerous programs to divert non-violent offenders from jail, especially in drug cases, supported reclassifying minor drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and created a conviction integrity unit to investigate innocence claims.
We hope Rosen's next term will bring more attention to police misconduct, which cries out for stronger prosecutorial attention. The police and district attorney's office must work hand in hand to bring criminals to justice, but that relationship cannot result in the type of laissez faire attitude toward prosecuting police misconduct that Rosen has shown.
Santa Clara County Assessor — Larry Stone
Larry Stone has been in office for 27 years, and at age 81 it is time for him to step aside and allow someone of his caliber to take his place. Unfortunately, his name recognition and strong performance in the office has made it impossible for any challenger to mount a serious challenge as long as he chooses to continue in office.
This year is no exception. His opponent, Andrew Crockett, is a CPA working as a financial analyst for the Santa Clara County Health System and doesn't come close to measuring up to Stone's experience or accomplishments.
We recommend Stone's reelection, with the hope that he will then announce it is his last term.
Measure A — Water Board term limit
Measure A is a ridiculous and deceptive attempt by the incumbent directors of the Santa Clara Valley Water District to change the current three-term limit of 12 years in office to give themselves an additional four years to serve. Voters imposed a limit of three terms on directors in 2009 and now that some directors are about to be termed out they have placed Measure A on the ballot to change the limit to four terms (16 years).
This is an easy one. Vote no on Measure A.