BERKELEY -- Six of the eight Assembly District 15 candidates have no elected experience, but that's not stopping them from telling voters they are qualified to represent the East Bay in Sacramento.
The district, from Oakland to Hercules, has no incumbent because Democrat Nancy Skinner is stepping down in November due to term limits.
The top two vote-getters in the June 3 primary square off in the November election.
Only Tony Thurmond, a Democrat from Richmond, and Republican Rich Kinney, of San Pablo, have been elected to office.
Thurmond was on the Richmond City Council from 2005 to 2008 and on the West Contra Costa County school board from 2008 to 2012. Kinney has been on the San Pablo City Council since 2012.
Elizabeth Echols, of Oakland, has no elected experience, but she is endorsed by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who held the seat from 1976 to 1996, and his wife, Loni Hancock, who held the seat from 2002 to 2008. Those two endorsements alone should take Echols a long way, as Berkeley voters, who tend to follow the endorsements of Bates and Hancock, have decided the seat for 38 years.
Echols, 54, a Democrat from Oakland, was the Small Business Administration director for the Western Region, appointed by President Barack Obama, until April 2013. She gave birth to a baby girl in October.
She plans to spend about $400,000 on the primary and another $400,000 in November if she gets that far.
Echols said she decided to bypass a run for City Council or school board because she felt she could do more in state government given the issues she's interested in: education, job creation and protecting the environment.
Thurmond, 45, who also said he plans to spend about $400,000 on the primary and another $400,000 to $500,000 if he makes it to November, positions himself as the only Democrat with elected experience. He currently is senior director of community and government relations at Lincoln Child Center in Richmond.
He uses his first night on the school board as an example of how his experience will help him in Sacramento.
"That night, my colleagues asked me to vote to close 10 schools," Thurmond said. "That's not what I signed up to do. So I reached out to council members in five cities to ask them to help me save as many as we could. We raised $1.2 million a year to save at least four schools."
Kang, a lawyer who has written state legislation in his job at the Greenlining Institute in Berkeley for the past nine years, said he plans to spend "at least $300,000" on the June primary. Although he has never held elected office, he said he is the only candidate who has ever written and passed a bill in the California Legislature.
"What I can say to the other candidates is, 'Have you passed a bill? Because I have. Have you even seen a bill?' "
Kang, 35, who came from Korea to the United States when he was 4 years old, said his progressive outlook was formed by racism in Georgia and then in Southern California, where his family moved a couple of weeks before Korean businesses were burned and looted in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict in 1992.
Candidate Pamela Price, 57, of Oakland, is also an attorney, representing people in federal courts in civil rights cases. Price said she will spend about $388,000 on the primary.
Yale-educated Price argued one of her cases, Morgan vs. Amtrak, in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 and won a partial victory. Her client was an Amtrak electrician who endured years of racial harassment. Price said her case changed the law so that perpetrators of racial harassment can be held liable for the entire period of harassment.
Eugene Ruyle, 77, a retired Cal State Long Beach anthropology professor, is running his second campaign for Assembly District 15 as a Peace and Freedom Party member. He plans to spend nothing on the race.
In 2012, he ran against Skinner, receiving 15,000 votes to Skinner's 98,000.
The only Republican on the ballot is Kinney, 58, a San Pablo City Council member and a high school and middle school substitute teacher in Richmond and San Pablo.
Kinney said he hopes to raise about $10,000 for the race but hasn't gotten there yet.
He wants to combat bills like AB1266, a law passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that allows transgender students to use whatever bathroom or locker room conforms to their gender identity. It also allows students to participate in school sports that fit their gender identity.
Democrat Clarence Hunt, of Berkeley, runs a staffing agency and executive search firm.
He plans to spend $115,000 to $120,000 on the primary. He wants to pass laws that help create jobs for young people and keep jobs from being outsourced overseas.
He would support legislation to give any new corporation a three-year corporate tax holiday if it creates 200 jobs. He would give the same tax break to any existing manufacturing company that creates 200 new jobs. Corporate taxes would be increased by 20 percent for any California company that outsources more than 500 jobs overseas.
Candidate Bernt Wahl, of Berkeley, an independent who helps start businesses, said he plans to spend nothing on the race. He wants to "really build the economy" by getting more technology companies to put down roots in the East Bay and by creating a shipping distribution hub at the Port of Oakland.
Assembly District 15