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Get to Know Our Local Democrats: State Senator Jim Beall

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Jim Beall, elected just last year to the State Senate (SD15), has long been a fixture in the Santa Clara County Democratic Party. Just 28 when he was elected as San Jose’s youngest city councilman, Jim also served as County Supervisor before being elected to the State Assemblyman in 2006.

Jim was drawn to public service early on. One of ten children growing up in the Valley, Jim attended Bellarmine, and was inspired by the school’s motto, “Men for and with others.” Jim’s family was not well off, and he worked in the fields to help pay for his education, both at Bellarmine and, later, at San Jose State. The experience left a deep impression. Working along braceros, Mexican laborers brought in for agricultural work, Jim saw inequity and mistreatment up close: white workers earning more than three times that of Mexicans for picking the same amount of produce, farm owners who called the INS to frighten away Mexican workers on payday to cheat them out of their already-low wages, and more.  During this same period, many of Jim’s contemporaries had been drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. Those who hadn’t been killed were now returning, many of them injured or suffering from PTSD.  It struck Jim that no one was helping them – like the Mexican workers, no one was standing up to make sure that these people weren’t ignored or mistreated. 

If it was clear that Jim would have a career in public service, it was also clear which political party would fit him best. “Government is all about making a better life for everyone,” he says, “and Democrats don’t exclude people.” Moved by the party’s bedrock principles of social justice, Jim calls himself a “practical, progressive Democrat.” He cites our criminal justice system as an example. True justice, he insists, means not just punishment, but an opportunity for redemption. It also means pro-active prevention, which is why Jim has long been a proponent of programs dealing with mental health and substance abuse. Punishment alone, without any effort to treat underlying issues, is not only immoral – “It’s the most expensive way to deal with the problem,” Jim explains.

As State Senator, Jim’s priorities for the coming year are stabilizing the state’s fiscal situation and adopting a health care program that is both affordable and accessible to all Californians. Those are not mutually exclusive – during the special session called by Governor Brown to implement the Affordable Care Act, Jim is working to ensure that mental health receives parity, not just because it’s compassionate but also because doing so will reduce the financial burden untreated mental illness places on our public safety and justice system resources. A veteran of the public-private partnerships that saw the successful and cost-effective completion of Routes 85 and 87 in Santa Clara County, Jim is also looking forward to improving our transportation infrastructure, including obtaining funding to complete the second phase of the I-280/880/Stevens Creek interchange and improving the off-ramps on I-680 between Milpitas and the 101/680 interchange.

Jim’s official State Senate website is here.

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