Dave Cortese Wants to Tackle Housing, Homelessness, and Climate Change in the State Senate   

How the San Jose Native Sees His Work and Legacy in Santa Clara County as Preparation for Helping People at the State Level
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Dave Cortese

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

Dave Cortese is a lifelong resident of Santa Clara County and has been involved in public service work for nearly 30 years. With deep roots in the area, Cortese and his family have long been part of the fabric of San Jose’s evolution over the years.

Now though, Cortese hopes to take his public service to the next level.

This election season the current President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is running for District 15 in State Senate, with one of the main reasons being, according to him, “the opportunity to expand my capacity to help people from the 2 million people in Santa Clara County to the 40 million people in the State of California.”

Taking a closer look Cortese’s accomplishments in helping his constituents, it’s evident he has long been a proponent of social progress and civil rights. These accomplishments include changes related to city transportation and pedestrian safety, helping sponsor an anti-Human Trafficking task force, and most recently writing a successful proposal to make Juneteenth a county holiday starting in 2021.

Cortese’s past work in social issues also deserves highlighting, including working with the UFW (United Farm Workers) and raising awareness of farmworkers’ struggles, to working directly with Dolores Huerta to organize a children’s march on immigration, and fighting and successfully suing Donald Trump’s Administration on immigrants right to due process.

Currently his extensive endorsements range from individuals like Dolores Huerta, Representative Ro Khanna, former Representative Mike Honda and Secretary of State Alex Padilla, to groups like the California Democratic Party, various local and state-wide teacher associations, unions and climate change organizations.

The following is a recent Q&A with Cortese regarding his Senate race, his legacy in San Jose, and what issues he would want to challenge if he were to win.

What are your factors or motivations to run for State Senate? What prompted you to pursue it?

I learned long ago that the only reason to be in the business of public service is to help people. I have had the good fortune to be able to help many people through my role as an elected official over the years, whether it‘s individual constituents who call the office with a problem or policies or programs who help groups of people like immigrant families, challenged youth, veterans, or people without homes. I would like the opportunity to expand my capacity to help people from the 2 million people in Santa Clara County to the 40 million people in the State of California.

You come from a civic background that has deep roots in San Jose. How would you rate your political legacy here in San Jose?

I have lived in San Jose my entire life and have raised my family here. My first job was picking prunes and apricots side-by-side migrant farm workers in the orchards in East San Jose. I started walking precincts for my father, former Santa Clara County Supervisor and Assemblymember Dominic Cortese when I was 11 years old. In addition to my career in public service, I have been active in Rotary, my church, and supporting countless organizations such as Little League, YMCA, East Side Heroes, and others. This is my home, and I hope that my legacy will be that I did everything I could to make our community stronger, safer, and more equitable for all its members.

How was your work in this City and Santa Clara County prepared you for what a role in the Senate would entail? What do you feel you could bring to the State Senate based on your experience in politics in this region?

With 27 years of experience in public service on a school board, city council and county board of supervisors, I have gained experience in public education, public safety, social services, healthcare, land use planning and much more. Beyond that, I have gained experience in bringing our community together to address some of our most seemingly intractable problems such as gun violence and homelessness. My diverse connections span racial, cultural, socio-economic, age, gender, and faith communities. My wide breadth of experience and my ability to build coalitions of support are what set me apart from my opponents.

What are your main goals or issues to tackle if you were nominated to the State Senate?

The main issues I’m looking forward to tackling in the State Senate are housing/homelessness, education, COVID-19 relief & recovery and climate change.

Housing, homelessness, and climate change are some of the biggest issues in not only California but the entire country, how would you address these working in the California Senate?

  • Housing
    • As a senator I would introduce legislation that focuses on incentives for housing production including tax credits and financing incentives. In 2016, I co-chaired the Measure A bond campaign which raised nearly a billion dollars to provide affordable housing for some of our most vulnerable residents in Santa Clara County. That money has been leveraged 3:1 against private, municipal and non-profit housing investment. We have already jumpstarted 22 affordable housing projects since the measure passed just three years ago. This approach should be replicated in all 58 counties across the state. In addition, the state has the power to issue tax credits and deferments for the development of property much like what is done in other areas of commerce such as agriculture. The combination of these types of financial incentives would have an extraordinary positive impact on housing
  • Homelessness
    • Solutions to homelessness have been a priority while serving on the San Jose City Council and Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. When I chaired the Board four of my first nine years in office, I initiated the creation of a housing task force with representatives from business, labor, city and county offices and many experts on housing and homelessness. The panel included members of the homeless community who helped make decisions and generate ideas which led to Measure A being placed on the ballot. The task force also brought forward recommendations for additional short-term, interim housing options. We shouldn’t be waiting; people are dying and it’s not acceptable. I will fight for significant increases in funding in these areas as a state senator just as I have as a county
  • Climate change
    • Climate scientists are telling us that we have just 12 years before we do irreparable damage to our global environment. We need aggressive and immediate actions to turn this around, shifting our dependency on fossil fuels to renewable sources. We need to build our resilience to Climate Change through a decarbonization strategy. To do this, we must work with Community Choice Aggregations to 1) procure decarbonized energy supply and 2) ensure grid integration. I support full carbon restoration through viable solutions that will remove excess CO2 and bring back atmospheric concentration to healthy pre-industrial revolution levels by This requires returning atmospheric CO2 to safe levels of less than 300 parts per million (ppm).

COVID-19 statistics have shown that Latinos are more adversely affected by the coronavirus. With a California population of an estimated 16-17 Million and as a Legislator who has represented many Latino constituents for years, what ideas will you take to the State Capital on how state funding resources can be used in helping protect Latino households from this deadly virus, which will likely be with us for the next few years ?

The coronavirus outbreak laid bare the disproportionate number of people of color getting COVID-19, the lack of health care for them, and the limited access to devices and Internet connections, which prevents children from learning, workers from working remotely and families from accessing telemedicine. On the Board of Supervisors, I recommend that the County partner with community groups that already have strong connections with these communities that have disproportionate rates of infection, including Latino, African American and Asian American communities in East San Jose.

I’d like us to take a page from a grassroots organizing playbook that recommends using written materials in many languages, posters, advertising in local publications, texting, phone calls and “boots on the ground” to make sure all our families know how to protect themselves and their children so they can stay healthy when they perform such essential tasks as buying groceries or picking up prescriptions

In recent years, Former Governor Jerry Brown referred to immigrants as an “economic engine that has helped propel” the California economy to make it one of the world’s strongest. With this in mind, how do you view California’s immigrant population as such an asset to the California economy in the coming years?

California’s immigrant population is the driving force of our state and a major reason our state has the world’s 5th-largest economy. Santa Clara County was the first governmental body in the nation to sue President Trump over his very first Executive Order, (Sanctuary Cities takeaways), a legal action I took responsibility for as President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. When we won the nationwide injunction protecting all cities and counties in America; it felt very gratifying. Later, I debated Tucker Carlson on national TV (Fox), emphasizing the narrative that the constitution is on our side of the issue… Our community is much safer and healthier when, regardless of immigration status, the health needs of all our residents are addressed, when our children are educated, and when people feel free to speak with law enforcement about criminal activity in their neighborhoods. As I’ve done throughout my career, I will continue to work for the rights of immigrants at the state level.

How would you motivate people who may not feel as part of the government process to go out and vote and get involved in their community?

Voting is our voice, especially locally. I can completely understand why people may feel like their voice or vote doesn’t count, but change starts from the bottom up, not the top down. Attending local town or city council meetings or Board of Supervisors meetings and making public comments can have a big effect. As an elected official, it’s incredibly important for me to hear from constituents and engage in two-way communication. Every voice matters when it comes to building a more equitable, fair and just community.

And finally, from now until November 3rd, why should people check your name on the ballot?

My family has deep roots in this county. My grandfather immigrated here in 1910 to work in the orchards — he gave us opportunity and hope. He taught me to value the same kind of hard work starting as a boy in the fields. Over the decades, as a small business owner and then a school board member, city councilmember, and county supervisor, I’ve seen many things change.

Some change has been good, but some has been challenging. I’m running for State Senate because I know we can do better. Santa Clara County is a special place — it’s our home. It’s been a privilege to have had the support of our community as an elected official for the past 27 years, and I hope, once again, I’ll be entrusted with that privilege.