Midterm elections are fast approaching, and amongst the seats up for grabs are some of those in the California State Senate. Yes, that’s right, voters in the 20 even-numbered districts of this great state will have a chance to elect their representatives next year, in 2022.
So let’s take a look at District 10, currently represented by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont). He terms out next year, so the post will be wide open, attracting a bevy of eager new recruits.
District 10, like each District in the state, represents approximately 900,000 people. It covers a lot of the East Bay, including Castro Valley, Hayward, San Lorenzo, Newark, Fremont, Milpitas, and parts of Santa Clara and North San Jose. And while the new boundary will differ somewhat in 2022 thanks to redistricting, most people agree that there won’t be enough of a change to alter the uber-liberal leanings of said District, the current candidates of which are a progressive’s dream.
On the ballot is Lily Mei, the first woman and first Asian American to hold the post of Mayor of the City of Fremont. Also running will be Hayward City Councilwoman Aisha Wahab, the first Afghan American to be elected to public office in the United States. There’s also Jamal Khan, a high school valedictorian with years of public service under his belt. And of course, we cannot forget Paul Pimentel, the lone Republican.
Then there’s Democrat Jaime Raul Zepeda.
Zepeda is coming in as the underdog, a role he relishes. With no experience as a public official and a pledge to not accept any corporate donations, Zepeda and his grass roots campaign look like a long shot to win the election. But fighting the odds is nothing new for Zepeda, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico at the age of 17.
“My story is the story of anybody out there who is an immigrant,” says Zepeda. “You leave behind everything and everyone who you know and love to find opportunity in a foreign land, with a foreign language and a foreign culture. You’re not coming here just to hang around.”
The American Dream still lives on in countries like Mexico, where your destiny is often dictated by where you live, what family you come from, and what trade they are known for. For those living in poverty, and most everyone else, the odds are extremely remote that they will ever change their status. Their only hope for fulfilling any dreams that they have is coming to America. Says Zepeda, “In Mexico, there is no dream. It’s all fantasy. I knew if I came to the United States, I’d have a shot at something better. In Mexico, no way.”
Zepeda finished off high school here while working odd jobs to help pay his rent. He didn’t know anyone. He was in debt for years, but eventually worked his way up. Says Zepeda, “There are not a lot of people in the State Capitol who know what it’s like to not be able to afford any type of health insurance. I was walking on a broken toe for a year because I couldn’t go to the doctor. They don’t know what it’s like to work two shifts in a single day to make it work, to pay the rent. These are real experiences that matter.”
In time, Zepeda made his way to the Bay Area, where he studied politics at St. Mary’s College in Moraga. A few years later, he graduated from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. In 2007 he became a campaign organizer for Senator Barack Obama during his run for California’s 10th Congressional District. He was on Joe Tuman’s campaign staff during his run for Mayor of Oakland in 2010. He has since been involved in numerous other campaigns, including those of Mark DeSaulnier, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden.
He has been a community organizer for numerous non-profits, including Bay Area Community Services (committed to ending homelessness), Ruby’s Place (committed to ending domestic violence and human trafficking), and Citizen Schools (committed to providing education support for low-income middle schoolers). Says Zepeda, “These are all issues that I really care about and they need a louder voice at the state level. Now’s the time.”
Zepeda’s role as a community organizer comes naturally to him. While he was growing up in Mexico, his family would often rally the community to help out those in need, doing things like offering free haircuts for the homeless and teaching adults how to read and write. Says Zepeda, “We weren’t rich but we had enough. We were a working class family. My dad ran his own business and my mom was a community organizer. She had grown up in some of the poorest areas of Mexico, so she was dedicated to helping others.”
If elected, Zepeda vows to stay connected to the community and fight for their issues. After all, it’s what he’s been doing his entire life. Says Zepeda, “A lot of elected officials focus much more on the public side of ‘public service’ than the service side of ‘public service.’ That’s what makes me different.”
Zepeda is backing up his pledge to serve the community by refusing any corporate PAC money or big business donations. By only accepting funds from regular people, he hopes to put the public’s interests above any special interests. “We’re being outraised 10 to 1. That’s a big disadvantage, to be sure. But what we have is automatic credibility. People who tune into our message can tell that we really mean it. This is important.”
Zepeda, who recently left his job as Regional Manager at LinkedIn to join a new startup called HIVE Diversity, says his priorities include homelessness, inequality, affordable housing, education, and climate change. He lives in Castro Valley with his wife, an educator at Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward, and their young son. He is determined to include those in unincorporated areas of the East Bay in his decisions. “I can’t remember the last time any public officials came around here to ask me how I was doing,” he says. Giving a voice to those who are underrepresented at the state and federal level is one of Zepeda’s main goals.
As the election heats up for California’s District 10 and candidates begin to campaign in earnest, some will look to the horizon for their savior, a hero of the working class who stands ready to fight the good fight. Some will say that Zorro rides again, in the form of Jaime Raul Zepeda. Is the Bay ready?
More info at: https://zepedaforsenate.com/