Culturas Corner highlights individuals who make their community a better place through their work, business, volunteering, or activism. Over the next few weeks, Culturas will feature newly-elected leadership in Los Angeles and across the nation. Today we have California State Senator Dave Cortese, who was recently elected to represent State Senate District 15.
Can you start by telling us about yourself (your background, your interests outside politics, the important things to really understand YOU)?
It is a pleasure to join Culturas Corner today. My name is Dave, and I was elected in November of 2020 to represent State Senate District 15 in the California State Legislature. State Senate District 15 encompasses much of Santa Clara County, including the cities of Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Saratoga, Monte Sereno, and much of San Jose, stretching from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west and Mountain Hamilton Range to the east.
I am an attorney, business owner, and elected official. I consider myself, first and foremost, a public servant and it is my honor to continue to have the opportunity
to make positive change here in California and beyond.
Before serving as a Senator, I served on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors for over a decade, on the San Jose City Council for eight years, and as a trustee for the East Side Union High School District for eight years.
When I was a kid, my fondest memories of my community were at my local park. I grew up in San Jose and spent most of my childhood outdoors where I enjoyed hiking through the foothills, playing sports, collecting baseball cards, and working in orchards to save enough money to buy a truck someday. I graduated from Bellarmine College Preparatory, the University of California, Davis, and Lincoln University Law School in San Jose.
I have four children and am married to my wife Pattie Cortese who is currently a Trustee on the Eastside Union High School Board.
Why did you decide to get into politics?
My local roots and deep love of this valley have fueled my passion for public service. Growing up in the east foothills of the Mt. Hamilton Range amidst an agricultural setting, my fondness for the natural beauty of the Santa Clara Valley
bloomed from an early age and transformed into my lifelong dedication towards protecting the vibrancy of this community.
Serving the greater good was a value taught to me by my parents and it has informed my life choices from early on. Even as a young kid, I wrote letters to my elected officials, telling them about issues I cared about and asking them questions. Growing up, I would regularly visit my father, Dominic Cortese, at the
State Capitol. He served on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and later in the California State Assembly.
You said that if elected, you will continue to find ways to put fewer people
behind bars and change how society views public safety. Now that you are a
senator, what specific actions will you take to implement this? Do you have any
plans for development?
As an elected official, I have taken many steps to re-envision our justice system, including establishing the Santa Clara County Blue Ribbon Commission, which led to hundreds of recommendations to improve the treatment of people in custody, halting the construction of a new jail in Santa Clara County in favor of a Behavioral Health Center to treat people with mental illness, and creating the first policy in the United States to halt the incarceration of offenders under 13 years of age at Juvenile Hall.
This year, I am introducing Senate Bill (SB) 300 – The Sentencing Reform Act of 2021 – to bring sweeping reforms to California’s “felony murder” and special circumstances law. Right now, in California, there are people on death row and sentenced to die in prison who never killed anyone and never intended for anyone to die. SB 300 will address this injustice by allowing for a sentence other than the death penalty or life in prison without parole for a person convicted under “felony murder with special circumstance” who did not themselves commit the murder and did not intend for anyone to die.
SB 300 will also provide an avenue for currently incarcerated people to petition the court for resentencing, offering recourse to hundreds – potentially more – of Californians currently awaiting execution or condemned to die in prison. They will have the opportunity to be resentenced and the possibility to earn parole through rehabilitative programming, work, and good behavior.
Homelessness and housing are some of your other top priorities. Why is this
important specifically for Santa Clara County and how will you tackle the issue?
Having served as a president and delegate of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), a delegate of the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) Board and on the Executive Board of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), I have had the unique opportunity to dig into critical solutions to our regional housing crisis. I led the merger for MTC and ABAG so that the Bay Area can work to comprehensively tackle housing and transit in conjunction, while also reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
With renters across our state struggling to stay housed during this pandemic, it is clear that we must be proactive in addressing these issues, so we aren’t faced with a scenario that further exacerbates our problems in the future.
The Senate and Assembly also took action this year to provide immediate relief to tenants, landlords, and homeowners by extending the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act. California now has an eviction moratorium through June 30, 2021, and $2.6 billion in renter aid from the latest federal stimulus package will be distributed to those who need it the most.
As a strong proponent of addressing and preventing homelessness and co-chair of the Measure A affordable housing bond campaign in Santa Clara County, I am pleased to see $500 million go towards job creation and the production of affordable housing in conjunction with local governments in the State’s proposed budget. This will build on the progress of the state’s “Homekey” program that has already secured 6,000 permanent housing units for our unhoused.
What is your favorite cultural memory?
One of my fondest memories has to be watching President John F. Kennedy speak during a visit of his to Downtown San Jose. Although I was only a young boy, his words stuck with me and, to this day, continue to inspire me to pursue justice through civic and political action.