Madd on Politics: Santa Clara County Local Elections

By Maddon Hoh-Choi

We live in a deep blue state. And Westmont’s county, Santa Clara (SCC), is an even darker shade of blue than the state itself. In fact, President Biden performed 10% better in SCC than he did statewide in California (72% of the vote vs 62%).

Democrats consistently win landslide margins in SCC for statewide and federal elections — but local races (which are non-partisan, much to the ire of Democrats) is where competition persists.

In this edition of Madd on Politics: I will analyze some of Santa Clara County’s competitive elections, and rate each candidate’s chances of victory. Will local Democrats finally sweep elections in their liberal county, or can Silicon Valley Republicans manage to eke a few key wins out? 

Curious which candidates are on the ballot this year where you live? Get a preview at 

County Sheriff 

Pictured: Group Photo of Chief Jonsen and Westmont Students

The SCC Sheriff’s office has been heavily scrutinized over the last few years for its lack of transparency — much of the blame has been assigned to incumbent Sheriff Laurie Smith. Smith opted out of running for reelection this year. 

This November, Former Palo Alto Chief of Police Bob Jonsen (who recently visited Westmont) is facing off against former SCC Police Captain Kevin Jensen this year. Jonsen is running as a moderate, carefully balancing police reform and public safety concerns.  He’s garnered support from almost every Democratic SCC elected official, including Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-Atherton) and Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell). 

On the other hand, Jensen (a Republican-turned-Independent) is running as a more “law and order” candidate with support from local police unions and Senator Dave Cortese (D-San Jose). 

Jensen has heavily outspent Jonsen, but Jonsen still managed to cobble together a winning coalition in the primary, advancing with a plurality of the vote. The Sheriff’s race is a pure tossup this November. 

SCC Sheriff Rating: TOSSUP

Mayor – Campbell

The City of Campbell does not have a directly elected mayor. City Councilors internally elect a mayor and a vice mayor every calendar year. All City Council incumbents and new candidates are running unopposed this year. But the competitive (and actually contested) mayoral races come from our friends in San Jose. 

Mayor – San Jose

The “Heart of Silicon Valley” is hosting Santa Clara County’s most competitive mayoral race this year. Incumbent Sam Liccardo is term-limited and has endorsed City Councilor Matt Mahan as his successor. Former City Councilor and current County Supervisor Cindy Chavez is running for mayor again, with the support of organized labor and the local Democratic Party. The race appears to be extremely close, with candidates rushing to court every group in San Jose’s diverse population.

San Jose Mayor rating: TOSSUP

County Supervisor 

Last December, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors (BOS), by a narrow vote of 3-2, passed a new Board of Supervisors map, which has been criticized as an attempt to suppress rural voters. Westmont’s County Supervisor, Susan Ellenberg (D-District 4), won reelection outright this June when she ran unopposed in her deep blue district. Our neighbors in District 1 are the ones voting in the only competitive BOS election this year. 

For some historical context: Santa Clara’s BOS was once dominated by Republicans up until the 2000s, but their influence in county politics has become practically irrelevant in recent years. Incumbent President of the BOS, Mike Wasserman (R-District 1), is the last Republican elected countywide. He is term-limited this year, and the race to replace him is between Democratic San Jose City Councilor Sylvia Arenas and Republican-turned-Independent former San Jose City Councilor Johnny Khamis. The old district 1 was based in the more conservative and rural southern Santa Clara County, but the redistricted map has picked up more liberal and urban areas — in the form of a tendril reaching out to San Jose neighborhoods. 

Pictured: Santa Clara County’s new Board of Supervisors districts; District 1’s configuration has caused the most controversy

Khamis has been endorsed by Wasserman, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, and the Gilroy Police Officers Association. Arenas has the support of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party, organized labor, and almost every SCC Democratic elected official. Because of an energized Democratic base and a more favorable district, Arenas is the favorite in this race. This year, local Democrats are favored to win every single BOS district, an unprecedented achievement for an increasingly dominant state and local party.

BOS District 1 rating: LEAN Arenas (FLIP)