It’s Dem. vs. Dem. in South Bay State Senate Race

By: Charla Bear

The boundaries of Senate District 15. ( and googlemaps)

The boundaries of Senate District 15. ( and googlemaps)

With November 6th fast approaching, campaigns are ratcheting up across the Bay Area, and candidates are doing everything they can to sway voters. That’s a big challenge for two state Senate hopefuls in the South Bay’s 15th Senate District. The district stretches from Cupertino through Saratoga and across most of San Jose.

In the past, this largely Democratic area wouldn’t have been much of a contest this late in the game. The Democrat who won the primary would usually have been a shoo-in in November. But not this year. The new Top Two Primary system pitted two Democrats against each other — Joe Coto and Jim Beall.

“Races like this get pretty cutthroat, especially when you have two people who are pretty close in terms of policy positions.”
Even though Beall won the primary by 11 percentage points, neither candidate can take anything for granted. The general election is expected to bring out twice as many voters — some of whom have yet to decide between the candidates’ platforms.

Coto is more about education … followed by jobs: “I want to focus a great deal of attention on school reform and on this new world of globalization and information technology,” he says. “Education and its relationship to work, to jobs.”

And Beall says his top issue is the economy … with education close behind: “We’re going to the new age of the economy in terms of the information age. As a result, there’s a lot of people that don’t have jobs. Second issue probably would be — the top budget priority for the state — would be education,” says Beall.

If Coto’s and Beall’s top issues sound pretty similar, it’s because they are. They’ve also both been Assembly Members. Coto termed out in 2010, and Beall will this year. Now, they’re doing everything they can to differentiate themselves.

At the Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara, Coto and Beall appealed to voters at a recent candidate forum. The two Democrats were largely on the same page, until the moderator asked each candidate about the competing school funding propositions on the ballot, Gov. Brown’s Proposition 30 and Molly Munger’s Proposition 38.

“I’m in favor of Proposition 30. Prop. 30 is modest, conservative and also — by the way — temporary tax increase,” Beall said. He quietly finished by saying he opposed Proposition 38, something Coto seized on.

“Proposition 30 is, at best, the status quo. Proposition 38, on the other hand, is totally for public education,” Coto said.

Yet retired San Jose State political science professor Terry Christensen says such disagreements won’t seal the deal for either candidate — neither will the fact that Beall has raised a bit more money, or that Coto’s Latino heritage could give him an edge with the district’s many Latino voters. Christensen says that’s why both sides have done some negative campaigning. “Races like this get pretty cutthroat,” he says, “especially when you have two people who are pretty close in terms of policy positions.”

Beall has tried to link Coto to a scandal involving his former employer trading gifts for school construction contracts. Coto has accused Beall of trying to block pension reform to appease union supporters. Christensen says what the candidates should really do, though, is think outside the box. “To win, they’ve got to reach out to some decline-to-state or independent voters, and that’s a pretty big chunk of the electorate — and maybe some Republicans as well,” he explains.

Of course, Beall and Coto both say they work well with those across the aisle. So, it should come as no surprise that they have yet another thing in common. Their plan to reach those coveted voters — through mail, phone calls and knocking on doors.