Jovanka Beckles and Buffy Wicks are the final candidates running to represent California State Assembly District 15, a seat currently held by Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, in the upcoming November election.
Thurmond is stepping down from the position to run for state superintendent of public instruction and has not endorsed either candidate.
Both Democratic candidates have similar platforms, hoping to address the housing crisis, environmental issues and the criminal justice system. Beckles’ platforms include fully funding public education, supporting corporate-free politics and abolishing private prisons. Wicks wants to make California a more “family-friendly” state and has a strong focus on empowering women and alleviating homelessness.
Beckles, a two-term Richmond City Council member, is also a children’s mental health professional and a long-time member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance.
“I’m running for state Assembly to win California for the many and not for the few,” Beckles said during a League of Women Voters candidate forum. “I ask that you will join our movement to put people over profit.”
City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who endorsed Beckles, said in an email that unlike Beckles, Wicks is new to the district and has many election mailers funded by “special wealthy interests with values contrary to the Bay Area.”
He added that Beckles is a “coalition-builder” with years of elected experience standing up for the environment, tenants and workers.
“I have personally witnessed Jovanka stand up and speak out against racism, homophobia and sexism against herself and other community members,” Worthington said.
Berkeley School Board Vice President Judy Appel, who ran for the District 15 seat in the primaries, said she supports Beckles because of her “deep commitment to building and preserving our schools.” While Appel said both Beckles and Wicks have done good work, Beckles has done good work in her local community particularly and will bring progressive values and priorities to the Assembly.
Wicks, who advised former president Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, helped develop Obama’s grassroots campaign-organizing model and served as deputy director in the White House Office of Public Engagement. Wicks has received an endorsement from Obama.
“The catalyst for me was when Trump got elected, and I thought it was on California now to lead the resistance movement,” Wicks said. “I wanted to jump into the race and do what I can. … The grassroots energy is palpable.”
Emeryville City Councilmember Scott Donahue voiced his support for Wicks and her “impressive” ability to organize a campaign. Donahue said that although Beckles has done great things for Richmond, he believes Wicks would be more effective in moving Emeryville forward.
Jennifer Cavenaugh, Piedmont City Council member, endorsed Wicks because she said Wicks prioritizes the housing crisis, homelessness and education. Cavenaugh added that Wicks has a “really strong handle” on a wide range of other issues, such as inclusion and environment.
While Beckles and Wicks promote similar left-leaning platforms, they differ in their platform strategies.
For example, in their education platforms, Beckles and Wicks both support expanded mental health services for students, protection for DACA recipients and increased public school funding. The two candidates’ education platforms differ in their approach to charter schools, however.
Beckles advocates for a “statewide moratorium” on new charter schools and an end to giveaways of public resources to charter corporations. Rather than advocating for a moratorium, Wicks suggests subjecting charter schools to the Brown Act, Political Reform Act and Public Records Act for increased transparency while outlawing for-profit charter schools.
“It’s important for right-leaning students to pay attention to this race because it’s a battle over which ideology will come to define the modern Democratic party,” said Bradley Devlin, member of the Berkeley College Republicans.