South Bay Senate candidates differ on controversial housing bill
Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, former FEC Chair Ann Ravel and former Assemblywoman Nora Campos, who are running for state Senate, debated on Monday night.

Three of the five candidates running for Jim Beall's state Senate seat drew a crowd of eager voters on Monday night at a meet-and-greet forum in Campbell, discussing crucial issues such as housing, transportation, climate change and education.

The hours-long event hosted by the Silicon Valley Democratic Club did little to sway Silicon Valley Democratic Club members' minds as they voted to endorse county Supervisor Dave Cortese, a household name in South Bay politics who has been leading in the polls.

The other two candidates included former Assemblywoman Nora Campos, a seasoned Californian politician who was the runner-up against Beall in 2016 and Ann Ravel, an attorney and former chair of the Federal Election Commission.

The last two candidates — San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis and Tim Gildersleeve, both running as independents — were not eligible to participate due to their political affiliation.

In the first round of voting, Cortese led with 65 percent of the vote, just 1 percent shy of the threshold needed to secure the endorsement, before officially securing the club's support in the second round.

Ravel, a prominent attorney whose campaign has focused on ethics, campaign finance reform and fighting for equality and a fair economy, came close to earning a duel endorsement.

Prameela Bartholomeusz, the club's finance director, asked the candidates questions about running a clean and fossil fuel-free backed campaign, how to address sexual harassment and violence against women and supporting policies that target Silicon Valley's housing and transportation woes.

“I can't remember a time in my two decades of public service where things have been as lined up in Sacramento for us to do great work,” said Cortese, who touted his experience as a San Jose councilmember and Santa Clara County supervisor as preparation to begin tackling issues at the state level.

While the candidates agreed mostly on issues pertaining to education, climate change and women's rights, they differed on housing and transportation — especially on Senate Bill 50, Scott Weiner's ambitious housing bill that was recently shelved in the California Senate until next year.

Cortese strongly supported the bill, saying that something has to be done to address the housing crisis. Campos also supported the bill, calling it a “bold” effort.

But Ravel disagreed and did not support the bill.

“We clearly have a really serious housing problem in the state, but the problem with SB 50 that I see is that it shouldn't really be totally avoiding the rights of individuals who live in various towns to have a voice,” Ravel said. “To eliminate local zoning ability, to have people come before their local cities to talk about their own communities is undemocratic. There are lots of other alternatives for figuring out where housing can go in each community.”

Many questions Monday focused on the prevailing topic of climate change. Candidates were asked whether they would take a pledge to reject campaign contributions from powerful fossil fuel companies.

Cortese was openly against taking money from corporations that harm the environment, saying that it's “not just to uphold Paris,” referring to the Paris Accord Climate Agreement, but that it's also about creating “100 percent renewable” energy sources. Ravel agreed, calling big oil and pharmaceutical companies “corporations that have decimated the country.”

Campos also vowed to run a “clean campaign,” vowing to reject money from special interests in California that are “harming the community.”

Addressing sexual harassment and assault was another hot topic at the forefront of Monday night's debate. Cortese proudly called himself a feminist, saying that gender violence is one of the most serious issues that the country faces due to a lack of government funding.

“Women are under attack in this country,” added Ravel, who said that sexual harassment encourages discriminatory behavior towards women. “We’re going backwards, not forward.”

Campos mirrored those feelings, saying that “if we’re going to make changes for the nation they have to happen here. The #MeToo movement is real. It is not okay for someone to get into an individual's space without permission.”

“It's time to focus on the issues and have a unified front working on the same common goals,” said member Vinod Menon, who voted for Cortese. The county lawmaker's ”commitment and tenure” best represent the needs of the Democratic Party, said Menon, who believes that Cortese will stay true to his word on issues related to climate change and higher education.

“I think tonight's discussion was substantive,” added President Art Cohen. “All of the candidates performed well and had an opportunity to dig deep into the issues, but Cortese is a right fit because of his experience.”

While Cortese won the vote by a significant margin, Cohen said that it was not an easy endorsement to get.

“It's not easy trying to hit the issues that are most affecting the community,” added Cohen. “People are concerned about all of these issues — not one is more important than the other.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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