Editor's note: The initial published draft of this article said the California School Employees Association endorsed Tony Thurmund, but the organization actually issued a dual endorsement for both candidates.
California Assembly District 15 is located between the shores of San Francisco and San Pablo Bay. The district, which includes Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Emeryville, Hercules, Kensington, North Oakland, Piedmont, Pinole, Richmond, and San Pablo, is currently represented by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner. Skinner has been in the Assembly since 2008, but cannot run for re-election due to term limits.Replacing Skinner will be either policy director
Elizabeth Echols or former Richmond City Councilmember Tony Thurmond. The two Democratic candidates are facing off in a district that is 63.9 percent Democratic and 7.4 percent Republican, leaving 28.7 percent of the voting population not affiliated with either major party.
Elizabeth Echols, who graduated from Yale with a BA in Economics and Political Science and received a JD from Stanford Law School, has never been elected to a public office, but has served on the executive boards of numerous policy arenas. Echols has directed the Electronic Working Group, U.S. Green Building Council for Northern California, Small Business Administration, and is currently an executive board member of the National Women’s Political Caucus' Alameda North Chapter.
Tony Thurmond is a former member of the Richmond City Council from 2005 to 2008, as well as the School Trustee for the West Contra Costa Unified School District. He was also a member of local organizations like the California League of Cities Environmental Policy Committee, the West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee, and served as a fellow in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Children and Family Fellowship program.
Along with his elected experience, Thurmond is a social worker and lifelong youth mentor. He currently serves as senior director at the Lincoln Child Center.
IVN was not able to reach Thurmond for an interview. However, Echols responded to the following questions:
IVN: What impact do you believe top-two has had on elections in California? Has it had a positive or a negative impact? Do you support the new primary system? Why or why not?
Echols: The top-two primary system is designed to favor moderate candidates thereby limiting the diversity of voices. As a result of the top-two primary, the number of progressive Democrats in the California state legislature is dropping, making it more difficult to pass legislation on environmental and other issues in spite of the Democratic majority. In addition, candidates in solid Democratic or Republican districts now have to raise twice as much money to run for office. Having such a high funding barrier means that fewer people will run for elected office and fewer voices will be heard.
IVN: With two Democrats running in the general election, what efforts have you made to reach out to voters not registered with the Democratic Party?
Echols: "As the Assembly member for District 15, I will be dedicated to serving all of the voters in my district, not just those within my party. As a candidate, I have run my campaign with that ideal in mind. I have held numerous forums throughout the campaign where I have spoken to a wide range of voters from around the district, regardless of party. I have participated in community forums and celebrations, visited voters’ homes and places of worship, and attended numerous events throughout AD-15 because I truly want to represent all of our local constituents in Sacramento."
IVN: What local issues do you feel are important to your constituents and should define this election?
Echols: "My top three priorities are expanding educational opportunity, creating good quality jobs, and protecting our environment. First, I will expand educational opportunity by increasing funding for our public schools and making higher education more affordable. I also will invest in universal preschool to close the achievement gap and ensure that all our kids start school ready to learn. Second, as a lifelong environmentalist, I will combat climate change by putting an end to fracking and expanding clean energy. Finally, I will leverage my expertise in economic development to expand innovation and create high-quality local jobs."
IVN: In a same-party race, voters will want to know how your campaign distinguishes itself from your opponent. What are some of the key differences between you and your opponent?
Echols: "What sets me apart is my experience. I have had the privilege of serving both President Obama and President Clinton. I have had nearly 20 years of public policy experience creating and implementing legislation. I have held leadership positions in economic development, education, and environmental organizations. My experience bringing people together, crafting successful legislation, and leading government programs has taught me how to make government work for the people it serves. In the Clinton White House, I learned from the best in the business how to pass good, progressive legislation in a hostile legislative environment. I put these skills to work in Sacramento as director of the U.S. Green Building Council for Northern California, passing legislation to protect our environment and create green jobs."