SF Chronicle Endorsement: Only one candidate brings experience, ideas to California District 16 congressional race

San Francisco Chronicle endorses sam liccardo for congress

By Chronicle Editorial Board

Sam Liccardo stands out for the clarity of his vision, the precision of his policy ideas and his obvious commitment to working across the aisle.

When Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo announced in November that she would not seek reelection to the House seat that she’s held for three decades, she set off a “Succession”-worthy scramble among the politically ambitious in her Silicon Valley district, home to some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in America. 

A whopping 11 candidates are on the March 5 primary ballot — nine Democrats and two Republicans. Peninsula and South Bay voters 16th congressional district are spoiled for choice. We were impressed by three candidates in particular: Sam Liccardo, the former mayor of San Jose, a former prosecutor in the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office and a law lecturer at Stanford; Joe Simitian, a Santa Clara County supervisor who’s also served as an Assembly member and state senator, and Palo Alto City Council member and mayor; and Julie Lythcott-Haims, a Palo Alto City Council member, author and former Stanford dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising. 

Liccardo, 53, had by far the most detailed and thought-out responses to our questions. It’s obvious that he delights in the nitty-gritty aspects of complex policy debates and isn’t interested merely in climbing the political ladder or throwing out quick soundbites.  

This was evidenced not only by the 53-page book he put together outlining his three policy priorities — homelessness, crime and the cost of living — but by his earnest and measured responses, which we believe will help him find common ground and get things done in a divided and historically unproductive Congress. 

Liccardo has delivered on these issues at the local level. He helped oversee the development of tiny home villages that contributed to San Jose’s homeless population declining 5% and unsheltered population dropping 11% in 2022. And after a 2021 mass shooting at a San Jose rail yard, Liccardo spearheaded first-in-the-nation legislation to require gun owners to purchase liability insurance, which was recently upheld by a federal judge.

At the federal level, Liccardo wants to allow federal housing vouchers to be used for prefabricated, modular homes, which can be built quickly and cheaply and serve as transitional housing for people exiting homelessness. He also wants to repeal a policy that limits federal funding for mental health facilities with more than 16 beds, which has hampered states’ ability to care for their most severely ill patients. And he’s interested in tightening federal restrictions for certain types of ammunition, which may be more politically feasible than regulating guns themselves. 

Some might worry that Liccardo’s outspoken defense of tech companies could lead to him turning a blind eye to the potential dangers of artificial intelligence. While Liccardo told us he plans to advocate for the innovation economy central to his district, he also said that Congress should mandate transparency for the data undergirding AI tools and develop a national regulatory framework to avoid a confusing and counterproductive hodgepodge of state rules. 

Simitian, 70, has an impressive track record. As a state lawmaker, he authored numerous forward-looking bills, including legislation to significantly ramp up the state’s renewable energy goals, establishing transitional kindergarten and requiring cell phones to be used in hands-free mode while driving. 

Simitian also received Eshoo’s endorsement. But in his interview with us, he gave few details about specific policies he would champion, focusing more on his past accomplishments. Though we respect his decades of public service, it’s critically important for the district’s next representative to hit the ground running with fresh ideas and a fresh perspective. 

The third candidate of note is Lythcott-Haims, 57. Whip-smart, Lythcott-Haims would bring much-needed energy to Congress. The only female candidate in the race, she spoke passionately about the importance of replacing Eshoo with another woman, especially at a time when California is losing senior female leadership in Congress and reproductive rights are being rolled back nationally. She also emphasized her unique perspective as a Black queer woman. Lythcott-Haims has a bright future in politics, but her campaign unfortunately lacks specific policy details. 

Ultimately, we believe it is Liccardo who stands out for the clarity of his vision, the precision of his policy ideas and his obvious commitment to working across the aisle and finding common-sense solutions. 

Other notable candidates in the race include Democrat Peter Dixon, a former Marine who served in the State Department and Pentagon before co-founding a nonprofit and starting a cybersecurity company. Dixon put forth strong ideas for military reform but was less well-versed in other policy areas. 

Democrat Rishi Kumar, a tech executive who ran against Eshoo in 2022 and received more than 42% of the vote, identified many challenges facing his district but was less clear on potential solutions. 

Democrat Evan Low, a state Assembly member and former Campbell City Council member and mayor, spoke passionately about his advocacy for Asian American and LGBT rights but lacked concrete policy ideas. 

Democrat Greg Lin Tanaka, a Palo Alto City Council member, had perhaps the most ambitious ideas of any candidate — including undergrounding Caltrain and building housing on the newly freed-up land — but didn’t convince us that he would be able to muster the political or financial support to turn those visions into reality. 

Republican Peter Ohtaki, a finance executive who’s served as a Menlo Park City Council member and mayor, impressed us with his commitment to fiscal responsibility and his proven ability to work across the aisle but failed to articulate a coherent congressional agenda. 

Democrat Ahmed Mostafa, a women’s rights attorney, was the first candidate in the race to call for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Also running are Democrat Joby Bernstein, a Stanford graduate student and climate investor, and Republican Karl Ryan, a small-business owner.

In such a crowded field of candidates, it can be difficult to stand out — but that’s exactly what Liccardo did. He should be the next representative for California’s 16th congressional district.

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