Dave Cortese has won the close race to succeed longtime child welfare advocate Jim Beall in the California Legislature.
With most of the votes counted, Cortese defeated fellow Democrat Ann Ravel to take the seat being vacated by the longtime San Jose lawmaker who has hit term limits after a 14-year-long career in state public office. The margin of the vote was 53.9% to 46.1%.
Over his career, outgoing Sen. Beall was responsible for sweeping reforms to the foster care system. Beall, who had endorsed Cortese, said the East San Jose native’s deep roots living in and serving the community make him well suited to represent the district during such challenging times.
“In terms of the actual needs of the district that are currently standing, I think David has the experience to be able to get things done,” Beall said in a recent interview.
Cortese has served on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors since 2008, winning reelection campaigns in 2012 and 2016. Before that, he was a member of the San Jose City Council for eight years, the city’s vice mayor for two and a longtime trustee for the East Side Union High School District.
As a county supervisor, he has overseen a budget of $8.1 billion and set policies for a diverse mix of communities in Silicon Valley.
In a candidate survey for Ballotpedia.com, Cortese lists climate and housing among his top concerns as a legislator. He wants to take up the fight against homelessness at the state level, saying it’s not a “city by city problem.” He recently launched a universal basic income pilot program for foster youth aging out of the system and said it’s a good “demonstration site” to guide larger-scale programs throughout the state.
Cortese also advocates for addressing public safety issues through the lens of social justice, focused more on treatment and rehabilitation. He counts the county’s moratorium on jailing kids younger than 13 among his major accomplishments and said he hopes to replicate at the state level some of Santa Clara County’s efforts to promote restorative justice and pre-booking diversion.
“This is work I feel really grounded in,” Cortese said in a recent interview.
Ravel came into the race with the support of former President Barack Obama and experience in the federal government, with a strong background as an election watchdog. She served on the Federal Election Commission, appointed by Obama in 2013, and previously had worked as a deputy attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice. She’s also served at the state level as chair of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission.
Ravel has said she wanted to represent the district so she could address the underlying issues causing extreme wealth inequality in the state.
Ravel said she was inspired to run for statewide office to fight for California’s kids and families. During her 11 years as Santa Clara County Counsel, she led a successful $1.5 billion case against a paint company whose lead-tainted products caused neurological damage to children. Her attention fell on foster youth while serving, and her office created a program to strengthen their educational rights in hopes of helping them stay on track academically.
“I knew they would be bouncing around from school to school going to different foster care placements, so I wanted to make sure they were not being left behind in educational attainment,” she recently told The Imprint.
Despite years of public service, this race was her first try for elected office.
Child welfare advocates will miss Beall’s presence in the Legislature, where he could be counted upon to champion foster care issues.
As a member of the state Assembly in 2010, Beall authored the legislation creating the state’s extended foster care program which provides benefits for foster youth until they turn 21, he also authored legislation to curb the excessive prescribing of psychotropic medication to foster youth. Much of his legislative work also focused on disability rights issues and mental health services.
The outgoing senator said a key takeaway from his time in the Legislature is that incrementalism is not the path to big systems change. And he offered this advice to his successor:
“It’s very uneasy and difficult to make big changes. But you end up not solving a problem by doing that, you end up prolonging the problem,” he said. “You have to do bigger-picture kinds of things.”