Race for 15th: Jovanka Beckles hopes to take ‘corporate money free’ message to state Assembly

Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles is campaigning for Assembly District 15 as a different kind of Democrat. Photo: KQED

Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles was part of the shift in Richmond’s political power over the last decade, when progressive candidates, under the banner of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, unseated council members supported by the local Chevron corporation.

“We changed this company town, and we put it back into the hands of the people by electing corporate money free candidates,” said Beckles.

Now, she’s hoping to carry that message to the state legislature.

“When we start electing corporate-free candidates, we can then have the kind of government that will be beholden only to the people and not corporations,” Beckles added.

Drawing a line in the sand against corporate influence hasn’t been a uniform practice among Democrats in Sacramento. In recent years, landmark agreements to address climate change, affordable housing and infrastructure were all forged with compromises between progressive and more business-friendly Democrats.

Beckles said she facilitates productive conversations every day in her work as a wrap-around mental health specialist, consulting with teachers, social service workers and parole officers.

“But if what you’re telling me is going to hurt the majority of people who helped put me in that position, then I can’t support what you’re doing,” she said.

Beckles campaign has been endorsed by Our Revolution, the group that spun out of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, and she seems to be taking a page from Sanders’s small-donor playbook.

Her overall fundraising last year trailed many of her Democratic challengers, but end-of-year filings show that more than three quarters of her donations were under $200, the highest percentage in the field.

Another stat that could buoy Beckles’s organizing effort: 74% of her donations came from zip codes within the district, also the highest percentage in the race.

“It is my faith that will equal out to votes, and that’s what the difference is with regard to my opponents who are raising more money,” said Beckles. “We have a base here more than anyone else in this race.”

Beckles is one of a dozen candidates running for the open Assembly seat in the 15th District. Two candidates will advance beyond the June 5 primary and face off in the November election.

Each week KQED Radio is airing a profile of a candidate in the Assembly District 15 race, and Berkeleyside is publishing the stories as part of our editorial partnership with the station. This week, KQED pointed the microphone at Jovanka Beckles (listen above).