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Election preview: Assembly District 20 candidates

Four vie to qualify for runoff in seat that includes part of Tri-Valley after redistricting

The candidates for Assembly District 20 in the June 7 primary election are (from left) Jennifer Esteen, Joseph Grcar, Liz Ortega and Shawn Kumagai. (Contributed photos)

Following the adoption of new district maps aimed at accounting for population changes reflected in the most recent census data, four candidates are campaigning for the open seat representing the redrawn Assembly District 20, which now includes a sliver of western Dublin and Pleasanton.

With incumbent Bill Quirk not in this year's race, his seat is set to be filled by one of the four candidates in a term that will begin at the start of next year. The candidates consist of three Democrats -- Dublin City Councilman Shawn Kumagai, Jennifer Esteen and Liz Ortega -- plus Republican Joseph Grcar.

The top two finishers in the June 7 primary, regardless of party, will advance to a runoff ballot in the November general election.

Quirk, a Democrat who has held the office since being elected in 2012, announced he would not seek re-election last year in the midst of the redistricting process, with candidates announcing their runs following the adoption of new district lines on Dec. 20.

The new district maps mean that not only will some Dublin and Pleasanton voters be voting in this year's race for the Assembly seat centered in Hayward, but also that candidates who live in the new District 20 are eligible to run in this year's race.

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That is the case for Shawn Kumagai, who was elected to the Dublin City Council in 2018.

Kumagai announced his run on Jan. 11, following the adoption of new district maps that saw his Dublin home placed in the new District 20, thereby making him eligible to run for Quirk's soon-to-be-vacant seat.

Portions of western Dublin and Pleasanton fall under AD 20 in the new map adopted at the end of the most recent redistricting process. (Image courtesy of the 2020 California Citizens Redistricting Commission)

As a council member, Kumagai has been a supporter and advocate for affordable housing, supporting small businesses, and representing veterans and the LGBTQ+ community as a member of both groups.

"From issues such as fully funding education, the housing affordability crisis, health care and child care, to criminal justice reform and helping local businesses recover from COVID-19, I have worked on these issues as a councilmember and policy advisor in the California Legislature," Kumagai said in the Jan. 11 announcement.

Kumagai, the first openly gay member elected to the Dublin City Council, would also be the first openly gay assemblymember for District 20. In addition to representing LGBTQ+ constituents, Kumagai has been vocal about the need to address violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, with increasingly widespread and prominent examples of the issue since the onset of the pandemic.

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In addition to serving on the Dublin City Council, Kumagai has been district director for Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan's office since 2019.

Shawn Kumagai.

"I am the only Democrat in the race who has been trusted and elected by voters in the district and the only candidate who is a proud member of the LGBTQ+ and AAPI communities," Kumagai said. "And as the district director for Democratic Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, I know how Sacramento works and how to bring home results for East Bay families."

With the new assembly districts in effect for this year's election, the next District 20 assemblymember will be voted for, and represent, small portions of Dublin and Pleasanton that are currently in Bauer-Kahan's District 16, which represented all of the Tri-Valley aside from Sunol prior to redistricting. Bauer-Kahan is being challenged by Republican Joseph Rubay in this year's race for District 16, but both candidates will automatically advance to the runoff after the primary.

Kumagai's two Democratic rivals, Esteen and Ortega, are both in the throes of their first bids for public office, with Republican Grcar having run a failed campaign to unseat Quirk in 2018.

Esteen, who lives in Ashland with her wife and children and works as a registered nurse in San Francisco, cites her experience in public health and working class background as experiences that would drive her work in Sacramento if elected.

"As a nurse, working mother and community leader who was once a single mom on the brink of being unhoused, I know firsthand that our community does not have the representation it deserves in Sacramento," Esteen said on her campaign page.

Jennifer Esteen.

"To me, representation means more than just skin color, gender or sexual identity," said Esteen, who could also be District 20's first openly LGBTQ+ representative. "It means bringing my community and my values with me to Sacramento. I'm running for Assembly, because working families need a champion who can make sure that all Californians have what we need to thrive."

Esteen pointed to her work as a nurse and in public health during the pandemic as motivations for launching a campaign on a platform aimed at contending with longstanding issues that were brought to light at the onset of COVID-19.

"We are facing so many crises -- housing, homelessness, health care, economic stability, climate change, education and more," Esteen said. "The pandemic didn't cause all of these issues -- but it shined a bright light on the challenges our community has been faced with for decades."

In addition to her work on the frontlines during a tipping point in the public health sector, Esteen cites her background as a labor organizer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as motivation to "stand up to these special interest groups and lead the fight for big, bold progressive policies that will actually keep our communities safe and healthy."

Like Esteen, Ortega is also running for public office for the first time, and citing her background as a labor organizer as a motivation for her bid that would serve her and constituents well in Sacramento.

A San Leandro resident and statewide political director for the trade union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and elected treasurer of the Alameda Labor Council, Ortega is running on a campaign aimed at increasing housing and job opportunities and addressing environmental justice issues.

Liz Ortega.

Ortega additionally cited her background as the daughter of an undocumented mother who came to the United States in search of greener pastures as motivation for her run.

"My family has struggled to achieve our American dream through hard work, community support and a belief that we could have a better life," Ortega said on her campaign page. "Unfortunately, for many in our communities, that American dream is getting further and further out of reach. I'm running for Assembly to level the playing field so every family has a chance of achieving that dream."

Grcar, the lone Republican contender, is seeking the Assembly seat for a second time, following his previous effort to unseat Quirk.

Joseph Grcar.

A Castro Valley resident, Grcar has a background in computational mathematics and energy science, as well as having worked in computer science. He serves on the executive committee of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Sierra Club for its Tri-Valley group, and is a member of the League of Women Voters of the Eden Area and Alameda Taxpayers Association, according to VotersEdge.

Grcar's priorities are to "Make Alameda County GOP Great Again through county activities and candidate events," according to VotersEdge, as well as to "reform the central committee by proportional representation of districts according to the number of republican voters in each," and to "prevent PACs from laundering campaign contributions through the unauthorized use of the county party's name."

Although his 2018 run against Quirk was unsuccessful, it led to Grcar's current seat on the Alameda County Central Committee of the Republican Party as an ex-officio member, a status that the organization extends to candidates in the area who have run for partisan office in the current term.

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Jeanita Lyman
Jeanita Lyman joined the Pleasanton Weekly in September 2020 and covers the Danville and San Ramon beat. She studied journalism at Skyline College and Mills College while covering the Peninsula for the San Mateo Daily Journal, after moving back to the area in 2013. Read more >>

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Election preview: Assembly District 20 candidates

Four vie to qualify for runoff in seat that includes part of Tri-Valley after redistricting

by / Pleasanton Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, May 27, 2022, 1:33 am

Following the adoption of new district maps aimed at accounting for population changes reflected in the most recent census data, four candidates are campaigning for the open seat representing the redrawn Assembly District 20, which now includes a sliver of western Dublin and Pleasanton.

With incumbent Bill Quirk not in this year's race, his seat is set to be filled by one of the four candidates in a term that will begin at the start of next year. The candidates consist of three Democrats -- Dublin City Councilman Shawn Kumagai, Jennifer Esteen and Liz Ortega -- plus Republican Joseph Grcar.

The top two finishers in the June 7 primary, regardless of party, will advance to a runoff ballot in the November general election.

Quirk, a Democrat who has held the office since being elected in 2012, announced he would not seek re-election last year in the midst of the redistricting process, with candidates announcing their runs following the adoption of new district lines on Dec. 20.

The new district maps mean that not only will some Dublin and Pleasanton voters be voting in this year's race for the Assembly seat centered in Hayward, but also that candidates who live in the new District 20 are eligible to run in this year's race.

That is the case for Shawn Kumagai, who was elected to the Dublin City Council in 2018.

Kumagai announced his run on Jan. 11, following the adoption of new district maps that saw his Dublin home placed in the new District 20, thereby making him eligible to run for Quirk's soon-to-be-vacant seat.

As a council member, Kumagai has been a supporter and advocate for affordable housing, supporting small businesses, and representing veterans and the LGBTQ+ community as a member of both groups.

"From issues such as fully funding education, the housing affordability crisis, health care and child care, to criminal justice reform and helping local businesses recover from COVID-19, I have worked on these issues as a councilmember and policy advisor in the California Legislature," Kumagai said in the Jan. 11 announcement.

Kumagai, the first openly gay member elected to the Dublin City Council, would also be the first openly gay assemblymember for District 20. In addition to representing LGBTQ+ constituents, Kumagai has been vocal about the need to address violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, with increasingly widespread and prominent examples of the issue since the onset of the pandemic.

In addition to serving on the Dublin City Council, Kumagai has been district director for Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan's office since 2019.

"I am the only Democrat in the race who has been trusted and elected by voters in the district and the only candidate who is a proud member of the LGBTQ+ and AAPI communities," Kumagai said. "And as the district director for Democratic Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, I know how Sacramento works and how to bring home results for East Bay families."

With the new assembly districts in effect for this year's election, the next District 20 assemblymember will be voted for, and represent, small portions of Dublin and Pleasanton that are currently in Bauer-Kahan's District 16, which represented all of the Tri-Valley aside from Sunol prior to redistricting. Bauer-Kahan is being challenged by Republican Joseph Rubay in this year's race for District 16, but both candidates will automatically advance to the runoff after the primary.

Kumagai's two Democratic rivals, Esteen and Ortega, are both in the throes of their first bids for public office, with Republican Grcar having run a failed campaign to unseat Quirk in 2018.

Esteen, who lives in Ashland with her wife and children and works as a registered nurse in San Francisco, cites her experience in public health and working class background as experiences that would drive her work in Sacramento if elected.

"As a nurse, working mother and community leader who was once a single mom on the brink of being unhoused, I know firsthand that our community does not have the representation it deserves in Sacramento," Esteen said on her campaign page.

"To me, representation means more than just skin color, gender or sexual identity," said Esteen, who could also be District 20's first openly LGBTQ+ representative. "It means bringing my community and my values with me to Sacramento. I'm running for Assembly, because working families need a champion who can make sure that all Californians have what we need to thrive."

Esteen pointed to her work as a nurse and in public health during the pandemic as motivations for launching a campaign on a platform aimed at contending with longstanding issues that were brought to light at the onset of COVID-19.

"We are facing so many crises -- housing, homelessness, health care, economic stability, climate change, education and more," Esteen said. "The pandemic didn't cause all of these issues -- but it shined a bright light on the challenges our community has been faced with for decades."

In addition to her work on the frontlines during a tipping point in the public health sector, Esteen cites her background as a labor organizer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as motivation to "stand up to these special interest groups and lead the fight for big, bold progressive policies that will actually keep our communities safe and healthy."

Like Esteen, Ortega is also running for public office for the first time, and citing her background as a labor organizer as a motivation for her bid that would serve her and constituents well in Sacramento.

A San Leandro resident and statewide political director for the trade union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and elected treasurer of the Alameda Labor Council, Ortega is running on a campaign aimed at increasing housing and job opportunities and addressing environmental justice issues.

Ortega additionally cited her background as the daughter of an undocumented mother who came to the United States in search of greener pastures as motivation for her run.

"My family has struggled to achieve our American dream through hard work, community support and a belief that we could have a better life," Ortega said on her campaign page. "Unfortunately, for many in our communities, that American dream is getting further and further out of reach. I'm running for Assembly to level the playing field so every family has a chance of achieving that dream."

Grcar, the lone Republican contender, is seeking the Assembly seat for a second time, following his previous effort to unseat Quirk.

A Castro Valley resident, Grcar has a background in computational mathematics and energy science, as well as having worked in computer science. He serves on the executive committee of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Sierra Club for its Tri-Valley group, and is a member of the League of Women Voters of the Eden Area and Alameda Taxpayers Association, according to VotersEdge.

Grcar's priorities are to "Make Alameda County GOP Great Again through county activities and candidate events," according to VotersEdge, as well as to "reform the central committee by proportional representation of districts according to the number of republican voters in each," and to "prevent PACs from laundering campaign contributions through the unauthorized use of the county party's name."

Although his 2018 run against Quirk was unsuccessful, it led to Grcar's current seat on the Alameda County Central Committee of the Republican Party as an ex-officio member, a status that the organization extends to candidates in the area who have run for partisan office in the current term.

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