UC Berkeley senior Claire Chiara runs against state Assembly incumbent Tony Thurmond

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Hoping to give people the chance to elect a new representative in Sacramento, campus senior and Berkeley College Republicans External Vice President Claire Chiara is running against Democratic incumbent Tony Thurmond for California’s 15th Assembly District.

The two opposing candidates share some beliefs, such as a passion for community involvement, but stand apart on plans for change. Both are running unopposed within their respective parties in the 5 percent Republican and 68 percent Democratic District 15.

Thurmond wants to expand on bills he has already worked to pass, such as bolstering chances for foster youth to attend college. He has plans to increase funding for universal preschool, implement more computer literacy programs in schools and protect the environment. He also hopes to increase programs for the homeless and medical assistance for those with mental disabilities.

Chiara is most passionate about education and the economy. One of her goals is to work on reforms that would establish merit-based pay and minimum performance standards for teachers. She also aims to decrease business regulation and lower specific taxes on gas, soda and cigarettes, as she believes such taxes don’t impact big corporations but rather hurt lower-income citizens who use these goods.

Thurmond, born in the Bay Area, was raised in Pennsylvania after his mother died of cancer. He first became involved in politics while at Temple University, where he served as student body president and used his position to gain more funding for higher education.

“I was given the opportunities to hold elective office and serve my community because of the way I grew up,” Thurmond said, emphasizing that he wants to give other Californians the same opportunities. “I had a great college, great job and family in the community.”

Chiara was born in New Jersey and moved to Los Angeles when she was 10 years old. She first became involved in politics during the 2008 presidential election. While she agreed with then-Republican nominee John McCain on most of his political stances, she was extremely surprised to find the majority of her friends supported Barack Obama.

“Learning about media biases and education biases made me really passionate about politics,” Chiara said. “I felt a lot of people were becoming Democrats as it was something you had to do or (was) cool to do.”

After graduating from Temple University, Thurmond earned two master’s degrees from Bryn Mawr College in social work and law and social policy. He moved back to the Bay Area and became heavily involved in community nonprofits and local government, including the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

“(Thurmond) cares for those with the least access and least voice in our system,” said school district trustee Todd Groves. “He makes sure their views are represented in policy at every level he served. And for that … I’m very grateful for his service.”

Upon coming to UC Berkeley, Chiara joined the Berkeley College Republicans, which she said had a lot of diversity and encouraged discussion about individual positions on political issues. Chiara soon joined other Republican organizations, including the Alameda County Republican Party, and helped found the Berkeley/Alameda Log Cabin (LGBTQ) Republicans. She is also a former reporter for The Daily Californian.

“She brings new ideas to the Assembly,” said Dave Erlich, chair of the Alameda County Republican Party. “She’s always been … very involved in the Republican community. So if that translates into the state house, she’s a voice you’ll probably hear a lot of.”

During his first two years as an Assembly member, Thurmond helped expand funding for the UC and California State University systems, closed thousands of idle oil wells in the state that were leaking into the water supply and co-wrote a plan to reduce greenhouse gas levels by 40 percent in 2020. He has also introduced legislation to increase the minimum wage.

“I have found that serving in the Legislature gives you the ability to direct the state budget to help in key areas of the state,” Thurmond said. “I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to do in my first two years.”

Chiara is double majoring in economics and political science but does not aspire to a career in politics. She said, however, that she’s aiming for a career in the private sector and will consider graduate school in the future.

“I want to be a voice for the many that I think are not heard in the state government and federal government,” Chiara said. “My chances of winning are very low, but don’t judge a candidate’s viability by their chance of winning, but through their connection with the community and vision for the state.”

Elections will take place Nov. 8.

Contact Gibson Chu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @thegibsonchu.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Claire Chiara would aim to establish a merit-based teacher-performance standard. In fact, she would aim to establish merit-based pay and minimum performance standards for teachers.

The same article incorrectly stated that Chiara would aim to lower taxes on business regulation. In fact, she would aim to lower taxes and decrease business regulation.

The same article incorrectly stated that Chiara aims for a career in the public sector. In fact, she aims for a career in the private sector, with the possibility of pursuing political activism.