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OpinionMilpitas Elections 2022: 5 key takeaways

Milpitas Elections 2022: 5 key takeaways

Note: the following article was written with 91% of Santa Clara County votes counted – with Carmen Montano slated to win Mayor of Milpitas; Hon Lien and Garry Barbadillo slated to win the City Council race; and Kelly Yip-Chuan, Christopher T. Norwood, and Anu Nakka slated to win the MUSD School Board race…


With 2022’s Milpitas election season (which was far less bruising and hyper-emotional than I’d foreseen) now in the rear-view mirror, I offer 5 key takeaways which may prove instructive as time goes on…

1. Faith Connects 

In her election night victory speech, incoming Mayor Carmen Montano dubbed herself “a God-fearing woman.” This puts her in alignment with current Mayor Rich Tran, who shares inspirational prayer videos (likes be damned) each morning on his Facebook page. The current mayor of course fought hard to help the new mayor win, and their commitment to their faith likely hit a chord with salt-of-the-Earth Milpitas voters who seek humility and deference to a higher power among their leaders. This trend wasn’t only evident in the mayoral contest…In The Beat’s School Board candidate forum, Kelly Yip-Chuan (who won 1st place) and Anu Nakka (who won 3rd) both said the last thing they do before bed each night is pray. In The Beat’s City Council forum, when asked about his favorite holiday, 2nd-place winner Garry Barbadillo said, “I am a believer: Christmas.” Hon Lien, who won 1st place in the City Council contest, also said Christmas, as did Chris Norwood, who came in 2nd for School Board, along with Carmen Montano in the Mayoral forum (Barbadillo, Lien, Norwood, and Montano were the only candidates across the forums to give this answer, although Council candidate Dipak Awasthi did say, “Christmas and Fourth of July”). In fairness, Awasthi, Karina Dominguez, and Ola Hassan, all of whom lost their bids for council or mayor, said they pray before bed, too, but faith-based answers were generally uncommon throughout the Beat forums, and the eventual winners were uniformly devout. 

2. Candidates Who Knock on Doors Win

“Knocking on doors wins elections in Milpitas.” This was Mayor Rich Tran speaking, back during The Beat’s first live-streamed candidate forum in 2018. He was so certain that his opponents wouldn’t put in the time or effort to knock on doors that he was willing to put the tactic out there openly. And it holds: If you knock on doors in Milpitas, you are leveraging the odds of victory in your favor. Montano, Lien, Barbadillo, Yip-Chuan, Norwood, Nakka — all of them have tar marks on the soles of their shoes. Nakka was even present at MUSD schools some mornings, while the parents (i.e.., voters) drove in, holding up her campaign sign. That’s not door-knocking, but the principle’s the same: If you go out, you can get in. On a related note…

3. Scandal does not trump personal relations 

Rich Tran knows this better than anyone. His three terms have seen no end of damning headlines, many of them in this newspaper, but if you go out among the people, you can connect in a way that transcends media noise. Montano saw this in real time during the election, when despite San Jose Spotlight, The Mercury News, and The Milpitas Beat running stories about her being investigated by the FPCC for allegedly falsifying documents, the voters still came out strongly in support of her. The news stories might have even worked in her favor, as the public, having known and supported Montano for years, might have sooner sympathized with her for being in hot water than judged her for what could have amounted to an administrative oversight. 

4. Social media is not reality

To see Rich Tran’s Facebook page on a daily basis, one would think that the man’s life is a nonstop dumpster fire, with shrill venom and animosity being constantly hurled in his direction — so much so that many commenters expressed that his endorsement of Montano could end up hurting her. In the end, though, the door-knocking and real-world relationship-building took precedence over the online chatter. By the same token, although Tran supported Hon Lien early in the race on Facebook before narrowing his support to just Barbadillo and Juliette Gomez, Lien still paved her way to victory out in the world, connecting among the people, where things actually happen. Meanwhile, social media engagement for Karina Dominguez was consistently robust and positive throughout the election season, but at the polls, she didn’t get out in front. On that note…

5. Milpitas likes progressives, but perhaps not enough for them to win

When the votes were tallied, 2022’s races all went to moderates and conservatives. Notably, however, in the Mayoral race, amid Montano’s commanding win, about 50% of all voters chose either Phan or Dominguez, the most progressive members of the current council by far. In an alternate dimension, had only one of those two candidates run, they might have been able to clinch a win; Phan and Dominguez, despite extraordinary differences in temperament and personality, are much aligned when it comes to policy and priorities. On that note, I hope the incoming city council remembers the progressive half of the Milpitas voting pool, and I hope Phan, who’s still at the dais for two more years, will be able to lead up a progressive charge, bringing climate change action and solutions for the unhoused to the forefront of the agenda. That’s not the vision of Milpitas that won this year, but it is the vision many people voted for.




Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer & filmmaker. As a screenwriter, he’s won a Fade In Award and written numerous feature films in development by companies including WWE, Mandalay Sports Media, Game1, and Select Films. He is also the resident script doctor for Rebel Six Films (producers of A&E’s “Hoarders”). As a journalist, Eric’s won a California Journalism Award and is co-owner and editor of The Milpitas Beat, a Silicon Valley newspaper with tens of thousands of monthly readers that has won the Golden Quill Award as well as the John Swett Award for Media Excellence. As a filmmaker, Eric’s directed award-winning feature films that have premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, and Shriekfest, and been endorsed by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Eric’s apocalyptic novella “It’s Only Temporary” appears next to Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” on Nightmare Magazine’s list of the 100 Best Horror Novels of All Time. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Rhoda, and their two sons.


  1. “… about 50% of all voters chose either Phan or Dominguez, the most progressive members of the current council by far.” As of Friday evening, Montano had garnered 34.45% of the vote, while Phan and Dominguez captured 50.38%. Because Montano becomes Mayor after receiving only 1 in 3 votes cast is a big reason to replace our plurality voting system (that gives the election to whoever gets the most votes). An alternative, Instant-Runoff Voting (IRV, aka ranked-choice voting), has been successfully used in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Leandro.
    With the many assaults upon our democracy across the country (voter suppression, money in politics, insurrectionists still sitting in Congress and Mar-a-Lago), one way to push back is by expanding democracy here. IRV does that. It offers voters a more democratic way to express themselves when selecting a representative. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant-runoff_voting

  2. Eric, I think you missed one major point. Coalitions win.
    Mayor Tran established a coalition of folks running for offices and worked with them. The two progressives might have been better served if one had given the other the single place on the ballot, as 50 beats 30 something. A progressive coalition, with a pipeline or bench of potential candidates might have been able to put forth one candidate not two. Even the Democratic Party in the county wanted Phan and Dominguez but could not decide on one so they didn’t endorse anyone.
    This is how 45 won in 16. when you have too multiple acceptable candidates and one outsider, the vote is split and they only need 30% to win.
    Thursday night at the EVDC meeting one topic was to start talking about open offices and seats earlier to attract potential candidates and help them make decisions that fit their personal, family and community needs for some of the races east of 101 from Milpitas to Evergreen. In a county of 1,885,808 there are a lot of qualified people, and there is not a great support system or pipeline.
    I challenge anyone who is unhappy with any election result this year to engage. Get thee to a rally. Meet up. Speak now or forever hold your peace. Rank Choice, Majority Rules, and even if the McRib ever returns again is based on audience participation. Take a seat at the tables, bring your own chair if they don’t let you, but do not sit back and whine, troll, comment, angry like or suffer from FOMO unless you are willing to walk, talk, text, finance, support, and see to it that your voice is heard as a vote, when it actually, literally, majorly counts. ?

  3. Eric, As a long rime resident of Milpitas; I appreciate this bipartian article of yours throwing some light on state of union in our city.

  4. Hopefully the new (mostly circulating roles among themselves ) mayor and assembly conduct themselves with some amount of professionalism. Last few years have been painful to sit in the city hall meetings.

  5. I’m home all day and ain’t nobody came a knockin’ on my door on Tahoe Drive.
    Or perhaps they didn’t wait for me to answer it.

    • There are a few possibilities, since I know that your precinct was walked by multiple candidates. Due to the high cost of elections most candidates will only knock or deliver mail to frequent voters, newly registered voters, or voters whom have only voted in the last election. The other possibility is that some volunteers saw fit to destroy other candidate brochures while walking. Finally, in a few instances candidates used blue tape to fasten their brochures to doors; we found copies of these brochures everywhere we walked if there was wind.

  6. I have a different explanation of the results that I believe the author overlooked. 6 years ago, when Tran/Dominguez ran the voters were looking for something new/something younger. They got it when they elected Tran/Dominguez (Phan was also elected). What they didn’t expect was the 6 years of embarrassment both inside and outside of the city due to the City Council’s behavior. A very significant fact is that by the City’s own poll, only 54% of the residents supported the performance of the City Council. Over and over during the election we heard people highlight the embarrassing conflicts that neither Tran nor Dominquez had the capability to put aside. Their nickname “the Bickerson’s” was telling. The result, around 68% of the votes in the city were cast by voters 50 years and older! I would submit that this group of voters were clear in stating that they want some maturity on the Council; we tried going younger and were very disappointed. In this election, the “younger voters” didn’t show up; in the campaign it was clear that they shared in the embarrassment/apathy caused by the performance of the past Council. The voters elected people with experience, people who could collaborate and lead; even Anu Nakka had the experience of running the bond election.


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