With sample ballots already in most voters' hands, Monday is the first day Contra Costa County election officials will send out vote-by-mail ballots, marking the start of early voting ahead of Election Day on June 5.
Of course all elections are decided by those who vote, but citizens who choose to participate seem to carry more significance in midterm elections and primaries -- when voter turnout is typically low, especially in a non-presidential year like 2018.
The last time around, in June 2014, the Registrar of Voters' Office reported that only 28.7% of registered Contra Costa County voters cast a ballot, which was 8% below the national average. That turnout was well below the 49.8% reported in June 2016 in the middle of the Trump-Clinton presidential race.
According to the California Secretary of State’s Office, as of January just under 80% of residents in Contra Costa County have registered to vote, with 50.1% registering as Democrats and 21.1% as Republican.
There is still time for eligible residents to sign up to have their voices heard this time around, with May 21 the final day to register to vote in this primary election.
Residents will help determine their local representatives for the U.S. Congress, State Assembly, and key county positions such as district attorney, superintendent of schools and auditor-controller.
There's also a ballot measure to impose a Bay Area bridge toll hike to fund regional transportation projects including the Interstate 680-Highway 84 interchange, five state propositions and statewide positions led by the governor and senator races.
The county positions of sheriff-coroner, assessor, clerk-recorder and tax collector are all up for election, but the incumbents are on the ballot unopposed.
U.S. House of Representatives, District 15
Incumbent Eric Swalwell faces two political newcomers from the Tri-Valley -- Rudy Peters and Brendan St. John -- in his bid for a fourth straight term representing Congressional District 15, which runs from Livermore to the east, Hayward to the west, San Ramon and Castro Valley in the north and Fremont to the south.
The top two finishers in the June primary will face each other in a runoff election in November.
A former Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor, Swalwell has been a rising member of the Democratic Party at the state and national levels since taking office in 2013 at 32 years old.
"Serving my friends and neighbors in the 15th District is the greatest honor of my life, and I'm all in for another term of striving to help you," Swalwell told DanvilleSanRamon.com.
"I know the economy isn't the stock market or the unemployment rate -- it's each of you, and whether you are doing better. It's your job, your education, your healthcare, your safety, and your freedom to dream of and attain a brighter future for yourself and your family," he added. "That's what I'm fighting for in Washington, and I hope you'll let me keep fighting."
Peters, a Republican, is a Navy veteran and owner of AARD Solutions, Inc., a systems engineering firm geared toward the U.S. intelligence industry. A married father of three from Livermore, Peters has never held elected office but previously served on the Livermore Human Services Commission.
"You will see I'm much more concerned with arriving at workable solutions than 'beating the other side,'" Peters said. "I will bring leadership that's interested in doing the right thing for our district, state and nation rather than continuing the current Washington 'standard': doing absolutely nothing except engaging in polarizing partisan politics."
"As a Navy veteran, intelligence expert and entrepreneur, I have the experience to safeguard our country and focus on jobs for Americans. I am committed to a strong economy, fiscal responsibility and affordable health care," Peters added.
The third candidate is Pleasanton resident St. John, a medical marketing executive and married father of three teenage children. St. John has no prior elected experience and is running without party preference -- two attributes he is promoting throughout his campaign.
"You deserve 100% focus and commitment from your representative," St. John said. "As a no-party-preference candidate who has rejected PAC (political action committee) donations, I can go to Washington focused on serving you, and not the party bosses or special interests."
"The Association of Bay Area Governments' and Sacramento's recent attempts to force massive high-density projects into our communities without voter approval erodes neighborhood integrity and I believe violates the 14th Amendment," St. John said. "I'm the only candidate who has pledged to work in Washington to protect our communities and fight this harmful unconstitutional overreach."
U.S. House of Representatives, District 11
Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) has three challengers in his re-election bid for District 11, which includes Danville and Alamo: Republican small business owner John Fitzgerald, Democrat transportation manager and advocate Dennis Lytton and civil engineer Chris Wood, who listed no party preference.
The top two finishers in the race will face each other again in the November runoff election.
Incumbent Mark DeSaulnier has been a small business owner, probation officer, truck driver and Bay Area public servant, serving as a member of Congress since 2015. He has also served at the local level on the Concord City Council, as mayor of Concord and three terms as Contra Costa County supervisor. On the state level, DeSaulnier has served in both the State Assembly and State Senate.
"He has worked to balance California’s budget, establish the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel, secure funding for projects like eBart and traffic relief like the Highway 4 expansion," DeSaulnier’s campaign told DanvilleSanRamon. "Mark has always held government accountable like when millions were wasted on the Bay Bridge."
"In Congress, he is working to grow the economy, create high value jobs, and improve housing options. Whether partisan politics or Trump’s attacks on California, Mark is always fighting for us," they added.
Fitzgerald is a small business owner from Concord running as the contest's lone Republican, offering voters an alternative to the current voting trends by California Congress members, saying he hopes to bring "sense and moderation to both District 11 and Washington, D.C."
Fitzgerald told DanvilleSanRamon that some of the key issues he will focus on are combating sex trafficking, supporting the second amendment, addressing immigration and being an opponent to Planned Parenthood.
"Mr. DeSaulnier is for very lenient immigration policy, along with Sanctuary City and State status. I, like our Contra Costa County Sheriff, am not!" Fitzgerald said, criticizing DeSaulnier’s decision-making. “Mark voted NO on HR1865: Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 even though child sex trafficking is the second most lucrative illegal business in the U.S. behind drugs."
"As a senator in 2011, (DeSaulnier) voted Yes on SB48 making it mandatory in public schools to teach homosexual/transgender history to students K-12 when today, mentioning God and church are not allowed," he continued.
Lytton is a transportation manager and advocate, union member, and a Democratic Party candidate. Lytton says he offers voters a representative who is grounded and in touch with the needs of their constituents.
"We're a middle class family. That experience grounds my views. I'll never forget where I came from and the trust that comes with public office," he said, adding that he is a progressive, pro-labor Democrat and a father of two young boys.
"We need to do more than just flip swing districts Democratic. We need more than just a Democratic majority. We need leaders with progressive ideas and a commitment to accountability and our country in every district," he said.
The fourth and final candidate Chris Wood is a civil engineer, who is listed as a no-party-preference candidate. One of his main goals, he says, is to listen to people and understand the challenges they face.
"It's time that the People have the opportunity to vote Positively, to not be limited to hedging their vote in the two-party 'choice' system," Wood said. "Support Ranked-Choice Voting, Open Primaries, and Campaign Finance control."
State Assembly, District 16
Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-Dublin) is running for her third consecutive term in the state's lower legislative house representing District 16, which includes the Tri-Valley, Walnut Creek and Lamorinda communities. She is being challenged by a lone Democrat, Orinda attorney Rebecca Bauer-Kahan.
The primary provides voters an initial opportunity to learn about the two women, but nothing will be fully decided at the polls next month. Because Baker and Bauer-Kahan are the only two candidates in the race, they will see each other again on the November ballot regardless of how many votes each receives in June.
An attorney who was a political newcomer when first elected in 2014, Baker has held tightly onto a key seat for the Republicans in the Democrat-laden Assembly. Still, her record in office includes working with legislators on both sides of the aisle, such as fellow Tri-Valley representative, State Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda).
"When I ran for Assembly, I promised to be independent from partisan and interest group pressures and to get things done. I've done just that, getting real results," Baker said. "This includes passing legislation to: put our California kids first for UC admissions over out-of-state students; providing more parking at BART; extend BART to ACE in Livermore; strengthen common-sense gun control; ensure equal pay for women; protect our coasts from more oil drilling; and increase classroom funding for our local schools."
"I'm honored to be the only candidate with endorsements from Democrats, Independents and Republicans on every local school board and city council. I would be very honored to earn your vote to continue getting real results for our community," she added.
Like her counterpart, Bauer-Kahan is an attorney and married mother of two who enters her first Assembly election with school volunteer and nonprofit service experience, but no elected or local government service time, trying to offer District 16 a new type of political voice in Sacramento.
"As an accomplished attorney, mother and community advocate, I am running for Assembly to help solve our community's most pressing challenges. I have a long record of taking action to solve tough problems, protecting the environment, improving our schools and more," Bauer-Kahan said.
"Last year, I coordinated the legal response to Trump's travel ban at SFO and have been a relentless advocate for keeping guns out of our schools," she added. "In the Assembly, I will focus on getting our local schools their fair share of funding to prepare students for 21st-century careers and working to find real transportation solutions, including improving BART."
In the current session of the State Assembly, Democrats hold 53 of 80 seats, with two seats vacant that makes Democrats one spot shy of a super majority.
Superintendent of Schools
With the upcoming retirement of sitting Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Karen Sakata, the race is wide open, featuring three candidates with varying degrees of experience: two-term Mt. Diablo school board member Cheryl Hansen, Concord City Councilman Ronald Leone and Sakata’s deputy superintendent Lynn Mackey.
Hansen brings her breadth of experience serving in all levels of academic leadership, saying she has experience "from the classroom to the board room."
Hansen told DanvilleSanRamon her goals include: "Be a true service provider to school districts -- responsive, relevant, current, supportive. Provide high-quality educational programs and support services to prepare all students for college/career success in a safe, secure environment. (And) prioritize and leverage county and district educational and fiscal resources to maximize those resources (to) achieve fiscal solvency and accountability."
Hansen has worked in the county Office of Education as an administrator, principal, assistant principal, vice principal and teacher -- thus her campaign slogan, "Experience that matters: From the classroom to the board room."
Leone is the second candidate to throw his hat into the ring, a former SRVUSD Teacher of the Year and current Concord City Council member. Leone offers voters a candidate with a variety of experience, having worked as a high school principal, assistant superintendent, a board chairman for John Muir Hospitals and mayor of Concord.
Leone has broken down his campaign into five key pillars he has shared with DanvilleSanRamon:
"Academic Performance Counts: More than 50% of our Contra Costa students do not meet state standards in English and math.
"Attendance Counts: The grand jury reported that our Contra CostasSchools have the worst attendance rate of all nine Bay Area counties.
"Vocational Education Counts: I will expand vocational education by building a ROP Job Training Center.
"Teachers Count: I will create a more robust County program for teacher training & provide more classroom resources.
"Preventing Bankruptcy & Balancing Budgets Counts: The county Office of Education is not paying-down its unfunded retiree liability debts. If this continues they could become bankrupt."
Third is Sakata’s current deputy superintendent, Mackey. An educator with 21 years of experience working with the superintendent’s office, Mackey offers voters her wealth of knowledge and the ability to keep schools fiscally sound. She believes "every child deserves the opportunity to succeed and be prepared for college, career and life."
"My County Superintendent's campaign is centered on issues of education experience, leadership, and a vision for the future of Contra Costa County's schools. I have been a teacher, a principal and now serve as deputy superintendent," she said.
"I have worked with the Superintendent for 21 years and my colleagues know me to be passionate about educating all students, expanding career technical education programs, keeping school districts fiscally sound, and providing teachers with competitive compensation to attract and retain the best."
Any candidate for county superintendent who earns more than 50% of the vote in June would be elected outright. Otherwise, the top two candidates after the primary will face each other in a runoff election in November.
Interim District Attorney Diana Becton will be going up against one of her chief lieutenants, senior deputy DA Paul Graves, in addition to Lawrence Strauss, a small business owner and former deputy prosecutor in Hawaii, for the county’s top law enforcement position.
Becton was appointed by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors to fill the position in September, replacing former DA Mark Peterson, who resigned amid a campaign spending scandal and felony conviction.
Any candidate who earns more than 50% of the vote in June will be elected outright. Otherwise, the top two candidates after the primary will face each other in a runoff election in November.
Becton is not only the first woman, but also the first African American DA in Contra Costa’s 167-year history. Prior to serving as DA, she spent 22 years as a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge. In addition to her role as DA, she currently chairs the State Bar Council on Access and Fairness.
"Diana's priority is to hold criminal offenders accountable and keep our community safe. She believes there is so much more we can do to break the cycle of crime. Diana is already working with police chiefs across the county to address nonviolent, low-level offenders who can and should be diverted away from the criminal justice system and into treatment or services," her campaign staff said.
"She is especially committed to destroying the school-to-prison pipeline that robs our youth of their futures, with innovative approaches like a truancy initiative to keep kids in school and off the streets."
Graves has 23 years of experience as a prosecutor in the Contra Costa County DA’s Office. During that time he has taken over 70 cases to trial, resulting in over 20 life sentences. Currently he serves as the senior deputy DA in charge of family violence and directly oversees the sexual assault unit including human trafficking, the domestic violence unit and the elder abuse unit.
"Paul believes that the ability to work closely and effectively with local law enforcement is the foundation of the effectiveness of any District Attorney. He is in a select group of prosecutors who work with young police officers as an instructor at Contra Costa County’s Police Academy," a staffer on his campaign said. "He is considered an expert in search and seizure issues as well as other constitutional principles."
Graves' over two decades of experience as a prosecutor gives him an intimate knowledge of how the system works. "He has experience investigating and prosecuting cases in nearly every criminal division and in nearly every community in Contra Costa County. He has been involved in prosecuting some of the toughest cases, from homicides to sexual assaults, to gang violence," his staffer added.
The Board of Supervisors previously considered Graves for the interim position, two of the five board members reportedly having picked him as their initial choice, but unanimously elected Becton during a second vote.
Strauss has taken a critical approach of Becton’s office, offering voters the option to elect someone from outside the current administration who does not intend to maintain the status-quo.
"I am seeking to become district attorney of Contra Costa County because the safety of the public is at extreme risk due to the current inefficient and inept management...I appreciate the opportunity to be of service to the people of our county. I look forward to your support to change the systemic failures of the DA's Office," he said.
He goes on to describe, what he believes, to be one particular failing of the office. "The DA's Office is allowed to utilize telephone and video conferencing. Instead, the deputy district attorney is traveling by airline and/or renting a car, paying for gasoline, staying at fancy hotels, and eating expensive meals all at taxpayer expense! Also, the hearings sometimes start three hours late, and he is being compensated for the waiting time. As DA, I am going to curtail this abusive practice. Only telephone and video conferencing will be permitted."
The position of auditor-controller for Contra Costa County is up for grabs, with incumbent Robert Campbell taking on veteran and union leader Ayore Riaunda -- both seeking the position responsible for providing various accounting and property tax administration services for the county government.
Having served as the county auditor-controller since 1988, Campbell is content with letting his proven track record do the talking for his campaign, simply stating "I am fiscally conservative, promoting spending restraints that protect your tax dollars. I possess the qualifications, leadership, and high ethical standards required to serve the citizens of Contra Costa County, continuing my work to manage and protect taxpayers’ dollars."
Campbell has had a lot of time to work on the county's finances. "During my time as auditor-controller, we: Improved and maintained Contra Costa County’s credit score to the highest AAA bond rating, succeeded in recommending and building strong financial reserves, prepared annual financial reports that received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting," he told DanvilleSanRamon.com, referencing his achievements during his 30-year-long tenure in office.
Riaunda is a self described progressive with experience as a labor union leader, treasurer, certified government financial manager and a U.S. Navy veteran with over 21 years of service.
"I know how to get funding to increase needed services in our county. Working with other financial managers from other counties and the state, I have helped channel more than $300 million of additional funding for much needed behavioral health services in Contra Costa County and ensure approximately $40 million of continuous additional annual funding," Riaunda said.
He also highlighted his public service experience in the county serving as "a poll worker, tax return preparations for low-income residents, and numerous local church community outreach programs and labor actions."
Regional Measure 3
Voters across all nine Bay Area counties will decide the fate of Regional Measure 3, which proposes toll increases on the region's seven state-owned bridges to help fund $4.45 billion worth of transportation and transit projects in the Bay Area, including the Tri-Valley.
The Regional Measure 3 plan was developed last year by the State Legislature in conjunction with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, as a way to deal with congestion issues and pay for highway and transit improvements.
If approved by a combined majority of voters, the toll hikes would begin with a $1 increase on the seven bridges beginning Jan. 1, 2019, followed by a $1 increase in January 2022 and another $1 increase in January 2025. (The Golden Gate Bridge is not included as it is independently owned and operated.)
Projects in or near the Tri-Valley on the list include reconstruction of the Interstate 680-Highway 84 interchange south of Pleasanton ($85 million), Bay Area corridor express lanes, BART expansion cars and Tri-Valley transit access improvements ($100 million).
U.S. Senate: Four-term incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein faces 31 challengers, including nine Democrats, 11 Republicans and 11 third-party or no-party candidates. The most-recognizable challenger comes from within Feinstein's own party: Kevin de León, a state senator from Los Angeles.
For state seats, the top two candidates, regardless of party, advance to a runoff election in November.
Governor: There are 27 candidates running to succeed termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown, a list led by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), San Diego businessman John Cox (R), State Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach), former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) and State Treasurer John Chiang (D).
Lt. Governor: With Newsom also termed out this year, 11 candidates are vying for lieutenant governor, including former U.S. ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich (D), Pasadena businessman Cole Harris (R) and State Senator Ed Hernandez (D-San Gabriel).
Attorney General: Incumbent Xavier Becerra, appointed last year after predecessor Kamala Harris' election to the U.S. Senate, is running for a full term against outgoing state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (D), Los Angeles attorney Eric Early (R) and retired South Lake Tahoe Judge Steven Bailey (R).
Secretary of State: One-term incumbent Alex Padilla faces two Republicans, one Democrat and four third-party challengers, including Walnut Creek attorney Mark Meuser (R).
Controller: Incumbent Democrat Betty Yee is being challenged by Republican Konstantinos Roditis and Mary Lou Finley of the Peace and Freedom Party (PFP).
Treasurer: With Chiang running for governor, five candidates are in the race for state treasurer: Board of Equalization Chair Fiona Ma (D), Greg Conlon (R), Vivek Viswanathan (D), Jack Guerrero (R) and Kevin Akin (PFP).
Insurance Commissioner: Leading the four-candidate list is former insurance commissioner Steve Poizner, who served 2007-11 as a Republican but is running now without party preference. Also in the race are State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), Asif Mahmood (D) and Nathalie Hrizi (PFP).
Superintendent of Public Instruction: A non-partisan position, four candidates are on the ballot: Steven Ireland, Lily Ploski, State Assemblyman Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck.
Board of Equalization: Four candidates are running for the District 2 seat being vacated by Ma: Republican Mark Burns and Democrats Barry Chang, Malia Cohen and Cathleen Galgiani.
Proposition 68 The "Parks, Environment and Water Bond" would authorize $4 billion in state general obligation bonds for parks, environmental protection and water infrastructure projects.
Prop 69 would require Senate Bill 1 funds to be spent on transportation projects and exempt SB 1 revenues from the state appropriations limit.
Prop 70 would require a one-time two-thirds vote in each State Legislature chamber in 2024 or later to pass a spending plan for revenue from the state's cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases.
Prop 71 aims to change the date for when voter-approved ballot measures take effect from the day after the election to five days after the secretary of state confirms the election result.
Prop 72 is Glazer's proposal to exclude new rainwater capture systems from property tax reassessments.
Editor's note: DanvilleSanRamon has supplied a PDF with the full statements made by candidates for our election preview.