The two Democrats vying for the State Assembly District 20 seat that includes a portion of the Tri-Valley appeared in a public forum recently to present their goals and vision for the East Bay region and their respective campaigns.
Contenders Liz Ortega and Shawn Kumagai participated in the Sept. 13 forum hosted by the East Bay Leadership Council and moderated its policy director, Lindy Johnson. The event, whose video is posted online for viewing, featured a main question-and-answer portion along with opening and closing remarks as each candidate provided responses and discussed major issues such as housing, economic development and Proposition 30.
Kumagai, a current Dublin City Council member, chose not to seek reelection for his Dublin seat to pursue the District 20 race. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and became Dublin's first openly gay councilmember upon his election in 2018.
Ortega worked as the executive secretary-treasurer of the Alameda Labor Council and currently serves on the Alameda County Vaccine Equity Task Force. The San Leandro resident has been vocal about her support for labor and employee union rights throughout her political career.
The pair advanced to the November ballot following their top-two finishes in the June primary election, with Ortega placing first (32.2%) and Kumagai placing second (23.9%) in the four-candidate primary race.
The seat for the newly redrawn District 20 became fully open to new contenders after incumbent Bill Quirk announced in 2021 that he would not be seeking reelection
To start off the forum last month, candidates were asked how they would support economic development within their district.
Ortega referenced one of her most recent and largest ongoing economic development projects -- ensuring the Athletics baseball team stays in Oakland. She said that while this is not directly in her district, it would have a major impact on the entire region.
"This is a billion-dollar project that's going to have economic impact all over this county," said Ortega, who is aiming to win elected office for the first time. "I've been working with multiple stakeholders, unions, communities and court representatives and various other agencies to get closer to a deal."
"(It is) a priority to make sure that we particularly grow our small businesses, many of whom were affected by COVID-19, and are people of color," Ortega added.
Kumagai followed, highlighting his council experience and the importance of having broader perspectives.
"I have enjoyed working hand in hand with East Bay Leadership Council, with Innovation Tri-Valley and our business and industry groups across the bay area," Kumagai said. "It's really about collaboration."
He continued, "We work hand in hand with our economic development director to make sure that we are thinking regionally and not only thinking about what the problems are in front of us right now -- but how we plan for the jobs of the future."
Moderator Johnson then questioned candidates for their thoughts on how the State Legislature should support housing production and affordable options.
Kumagai emphasized the need for robust, additional housing units in the district, saying he strongly supported housing development and urged an increase in production.
"The fact of the matter is, is that we have been underdeveloped for decades. By any estimate we're between a million to 3 million housing units underproduction from where we should be," Kumagai said.
Unlike her opponent, Ortega focused her response on the unhoused and at-risk communities.
"I do have a large portion of my district that prioritizes housing and sees homelessness as a huge issue. My platform is about making sure that housing is a human right -- and that it's not just a slogan but an actual deliverable," Ortega countered. "I really want to work with our local elected leaders and community members to make sure that we're actually delivering on those promises, building and making things affordable and making sure that our most vulnerable don't end up on the streets."
Candidates were then asked to discuss their stances on Proposition 30, a statewide ballot measure that would increase funds for electric cars and zero-emission vehicles by instating a personal income tax on Californians with an annual income of over $2 million.
Kumagai expressed support for Prop 30. Ortega also supported the measure but presented several other counterpoints on affordability and environmental accountability.
"It's going to move funds into creating electric vehicle infrastructure," Kumagai said. "Throughout the Bay Area and across California, we simply do not have the infrastructure to transition to electric vehicles."
Ortega then used her response time to mention the enforcement and financial inequality aspects of climate legislation, related to prop 30.
"Prop 30 is not a fix-all, but I definitely think it's a step in the right direction in terms of equitability and access," Ortega said. "Many of the workers that make electric vehicles in this district can not afford those cars because they are very expensive."
Ortega added, "The one thing that hasn't been talked about is the enforcement of polluters. We still have a large group of corporations, the 1% of them, coming into our underserved communities and trying to pollute them more."
In closing statements, candidates recapped their main campaign priorities and encouraged voters to support them at the ballot this Nov. 8 election.
Assembly District 20 seat represents more than 500,000 residents including the cities of Hayward and San Leandro, portions of western Dublin and Pleasanton.
The full candidate forum is available to watch on the EBLC YouTube channel.