Joe Coto, the former Democratic state assemblyman and East Side Union High School District superintendent, spent $731,275 in campaign cash on a losing bid for the state Senate seat won last year by Jim Beall, D-San Jose. But at least some of it stayed in the family.

As Steven Harmon of our Sacramento bureau reports in a front-page story today, Coto paid his daughter Lisa $24,080 for "consulting" and appearing in a campaign TV ad with him. When we asked Coto about the payment, he said he had no idea his daughter was paid that much.

"That doesn't sound right," Coto said. "The way I used her, I paid her minimum wage, about $9 to $10 an hour. She helped with fundraising, sending letters, making phone calls, arranging locations. And she did TV work."

Minimum wage? Um. Thanks, Dad!

Actually, Lisa Coto is an associate with GameChanger, a marketing firm whose "manifesto" is to "change consumer products innovation." In her bio sketch, her company boasts that she has "experience in nontraditional marketing, including house parties and event marketing."

Doubtless, that qualifies for a nice campaign stipend.

Anyway, if you missed it during last year's campaign, you can still see the spot online at http://youtu.be/swpkJT_MosY.

Anti-tax leader leaves for Lone Star State


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You've heard tell that with California approving the nation's highest state income and sales tax rates last November, wealthy Golden State residents have been high-tailing it to Texas, where the taxes are lower than a rattler's belly. Now pointy-headed know-it-alls who looked at the numbers have deemed this California exodus story about as real as the prairie jackalope. But anecdotally, we know there's a Texas-sized kernel of truth to it, and not just because golf ace Phil Mickelson is mulling a move to the Lone Star State to keep Gov. Jerry Brown's mitts off his millions.

We're told that John Roeder, chief executive officer of San Jose's Great Oaks Water Company, recently relocated to suburban Dallas to escape rising taxes. Who can blame him? Santa Clara County voters last year also approved a new eighth-cent sales tax and water district parcel tax. San Jose leaders are eyeing a host of new taxes for next year's ballot. And the state's Democratic Legislature is thinking of weakening Proposition 13 tax protections for business property, as well as lowering voter approval thresholds for passing transportation measures to 55 percent.

Roeder, of course, knows a thing or two about taxes. He's a former president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, a position he resigned when he moved, though he's still active with his water company. He must have been out ropin' steer when we tried to find out how he's enjoying Texas. Silicon Valley taxpayers still stuck in Taxifornia now have Mark Hinkle to speak for them.

Public defender candidate seeks unusual endorsement

Two candidates have surfaced so far in the week or so since Santa Clara County posted the crucial job of Santa Clara County public defender.

One of them is Molly O'Neal, who took over temporarily last summer when Mary Greenwood was appointed to the Superior Court bench. A stellar public defender and popular executive, O'Neal is considered a strong candidate for the permanent role of overseeing the office responsible for representing indigent clients in criminal and certain civil cases.

Then there's Tony Estremera, directing attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Santa Clara County and longtime board member of the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

If audacity were the chief qualification for the $241,000 a year job, Estremera would be the top pick.

The Board of Supervisors -- which appoints the public defender -- hasn't exactly looked kindly on Estremera in the past. Citing bad management and other criticism of Legal Aid's performance under Estremera, the board in 2008 voted unanimously to end the county's $7 million annual contract with the nonprofit, which represented low-income criminal defendants when county lawyers weren't available. Estremera is still in charge of Legal Aid, whose budget is less than a fifth of the public defender's $48 million budget.

If that weren't enough, Estremera also is a member of the old guard of the water district, long famous for lavish employee salaries, sweet benefits and questionable projects criticized by county grand juries.

Estremera won the endorsement of the La Raza Lawyers last week, and he told us he also expects to have the support of Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr., who has been eager to diversify the ranks of county department heads. Shirakawa declined to comment. But he's hardly a sought-after endorsement these days.

Mired in scandal, Shirakawa faces possible felony charges for misuse of his county-issued credit cards after two county audits found he had misspent public funds. He also faces fines from the state's Fair Political Practices Commission for failing to disclose campaign contributors.

25th District seat draws plenty of interest

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, re-elected to his 25th District seat in November, has some time to think about his next political move. The former Fremont mayor can run again in 2014 before term limits cap his Assembly service at the end of 2016. But Wieckowski is said to be coveting the District 10 Senate seat of Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, who wraps up her second term in 2014.

And that, of course, is arousing interest in Wieckowski's district, which stretches from Fremont down through Milpitas and northern San Jose. Among those we've heard are either tantalized by this opportunity or being encouraged to contend: Pete McHugh, the former Milpitas councilman; San Jose City Councilman Kansen Chu; Milpitas City Councilman Armando Gomez; and Ohlone Community College District Trustee Teresa Cox. All are Democrats.

McHugh has deep political roots, not only from representing Milpitas for years on the council (where he also has served as mayor) but also as a former Santa Clara County supervisor. He made an unsuccessful run at Wieckowski's seat last year.

Chu, whose final term on the council runs through 2016, also has deep political ties, and says he's interested. His wife is a staffer for Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr.

Gomez, whose council term expires in 2014, is also San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed's budget guru. He told us he's interested.

Cox, who made national headlines as the first African-American woman with a degree in nuclear engineering, has ties to President Barack Obama's administration. She was appointed by the former U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to serve as a trade adviser working on small and minority business initiatives.

Wieckowski has not indicated a preference among possible contenders.

Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Steven Harmon, John Woolfolk and Tracey Kaplan. Who's Up & Down was written by Paul Rogers. Send tips to internalaffairs@mercurynews.com, or call 408-975-9346.