Two accomplished, articulate and professional women with many similar policy views want to be your next Contra Costa supervisor, but it is their split on social issues that is generating the most fireworks.
Candace Andersen and Tomi Van de Brooke, who are vying to succeed retiring Supervisor Gayle Uilkema of Lafayette, oppose expanding the county's urban growth line into the Tassajara Valley, reject the proposal for a peripheral pipeline around the Delta and agree that taming the budget and protecting public safety are top priorities.
But they clashed Tuesday in their meeting with the Contra Costa Times' editorial board over whether their stances on hot-button subjects such as abortion, Planned Parenthood funding and same-sex marriage are valid campaign topics.
County supervisors have no authority over predominantly federal and state funding for family planning services or the laws that mandate them. Nor do counties have a say in whether same-sex couples should be permitted to marry.
Despite that, Van de Brooke introduced the subject last week in the first face-to-face debate, telling the audience she is the "only pro-choice, pro-marriage equality woman in the race" and pledged to protect Planned Parenthood funding.
Andersen fired back during the editorial board meeting, saying her more conservative personal values as a Mormon woman have "nothing to do with county issues."
In a sharp exchange between the women Tuesday,
She opposes same-sex marriage but supports domestic unions. As for abortion, she described her position as one that pleases neither abortion-rights supporters nor foes.
But Andersen said she would not impose upon the county her views on these deeply personal issues.
"It seems disingenuous that you (Van de Brooke) keep raising this issue, implying to your supporters that somehow I am going out of my way to take away people's rights," Andersen said.
These personal partisan issues may not matter at the local level, but in Contra Costa, where three state officeholders were once county supervisors -- state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord -- party leaders often treat local officials as their respective farm teams.
County supervisors also last summer substantially redrew District 2's boundaries in the once-a-decade redistricting process, shifting the lines south into Danville and San Ramon and eliminating Martinez and Pinole.
Privately, some Democratic Party and labor leaders worry Andersen's name recognition in the San Ramon Valley, gained through her role as a Danville councilwoman and mayor, coupled with her credentials as an attorney and former prosecutor, might give her a leg up.
Danville is one of only two Contra Costa cities where Republicans outnumber Democrats.
Whether voters on June 5 will choose a nonpartisan supervisor based on party affiliation, or stance on a deeply polarizing social policy, is an open question.
But for those who choose to dig deeper, Van de Brooke and Andersen offer broad backgrounds.
Van de Brooke, a 49-year-old Contra Costa native, grew up in a politically active and Republican household. Her father worked in public affairs and for a while, she followed in his footsteps.
The wife and mother of two worked for Republicans in Sacramento and held jobs in community affairs for Texaco and Shell oil companies.
In her near-constant quest for challenge, she took on transportation and water policy for the California Alliance for Jobs and opened a successful public affairs consulting firm. When her partners in the firm retired or moved on, the Orinda resident says, she began to think seriously about running for public office.
She was appointed to the Contra Costa Community College District board in 2005 and was later elected to the seat.
Van de Brooke, who changed her party registration to Democrat in 2006, almost took on Uilkema in 2008 but decided to wait. In a fluke, she ended up working the next three years as Supervisor Mary Nejedly's Piepho's chief of staff.
"I only expected to be there a year," Van de Brooke said. "But I loved it. I loved the public policy aspect. I loved mentoring the young women in the office. And I learned so much about the county."
Much like her opponent, 51-year-old Andersen juggled her elected and professional life while raising a family.
The Hawaii native took her home state's bar exam while she was seven months pregnant with her first child, took her oath holding a 2-week-old baby and went to work for the Honolulu prosecutor's office.
She said she studied her California bar exam flash cards while she built Lego towers for her two children.
Morgan Hill offered Andersen her first appointment to city advisory boards and she quickly advanced to a seat on its City Council. She moved to Danville in 1995.
Andersen gave up practicing law although she kept her license active. With six children, she said it was impractical.
But she dove back into her new community as a prolific volunteer, and when an opening came up on the Danville Town Council in 2003, she was appointed and subsequently elected to two full terms.
Until a few months ago, Andersen, who is the mayor this year, says she intended to stay on the council and return to work as a lawyer. Uilkema's surprise retirement announcement last November changed the picture.
Her elected colleagues in the area told her San Ramon Valley cities needed a representative at the county. Andersen said she studied the race for weeks, asking herself, "Is this a job where I feel I could make a difference with my background and my skills, or would it be too frustrating, given the state of the economy?"
If neither candidate fits the bill, voters have a third choice.
Sean White is a 45-year-old Contra Costa native who left his chiropractic practice to teach photovoltaic technology classes. White admits he is thin on the local issues. He says he is running to raise awareness about the corrupting influence of campaign contributions. He isn't taking donations and urges his opponents to do the same.
White's prospects for victory are slim, but the votes he receives could make it more difficult for one of the other candidates to secure 50 percent plus one vote, win the seat outright and avert a November runoff.
Elected background: Danville mayor, December 2011 to present; Danville Town Council, 2003 to present; Danville's representative on boards including the Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority and County Connection; Morgan Hill City Council, 1993-1994.
Professional background: California and Hawaii licensed attorney; former attorney for Morgan Hill law firm; and former clerk and attorney for Honolulu prosecutor's office.
Key endorsements: Sheriff David Livingston; District Attorney Mark Peterson; retired sheriffs Warren Rupf and Richard Rainey; Deputy Sheriffs Association President Ken Westermann; Deputy District Attorney Association President Barry Grove; Contra Costa Supervisor Gayle Uilkema of Lafayette; Contra Costa Tax Collector Russell Watts; and former Congressman Bill Baker.
Education: Bachelor of arts in public policy and law degrees from Brigham Young University.
Personal: Married to Phil, in-house managing attorney for State Farm Insurance. Six children, ages 14 to 26.
TOMI VAN DE BROOKE
Elected background: Contra Costa Community College District trustee, 2005 to present
Professional background: Managing director and founder of VDB Communications; chief of staff to Contra Costa Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho, 2007-2010; co-founder of Stratigicomm, a commutations consulting firm; past president, Contra Costa Council; former director of water and land use policy and Bay Area government relations, California Alliance for Jobs; and former community relations staff for Shell Oil in Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas.
Key endorsements: Former Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher; Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson; State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; California Fish and Game Commissioner Jim Kellogg; Democratic assemblywomen Susan Bonilla of Concord, Joan Buchanan of Alamo and Nancy Skinner of Berkeley; Contra Costa Supervisor Karen Mitchoff; and Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Education: Bachelor of arts in political science and public administration, San Jose State University.
Personal: Married to John, marketing director at 24 Hour Fitness. Two sons, ages 18 and 16.
Elected background: None. Ran unsuccessfully for supervisor in 2000.
Professional background: Teaches solar and advanced photovoltaic technology at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, Solar University in Livermore and throughout North America; holds state solar construction and electrician's licenses; doctor of chiropractic licensed by California Board of Chiropractic Examiners; North America Board of Certified Energy Practitioners Solar PV Certifications; and former Alaska radio show host.
Endorsements: Local Power Inc. of Marshall, Calif.; Health Medicine Center of Walnut Creek; and Julia Peters, Local Power Inc. chief financial officer and former campaign manager for Jerry Brown,
Education: Life Chiropractic College West in San Lorenzo; studied science at UC-Berkeley and California State University-Long Beach; studied photovoltaic technology, Diablo Valley College; advanced certificate, SunPower University; and graduate of San Francisco Comedy College.
Personal: Father of 16-year-old daughter. Raised on a homestead in Canyon, a rural area outside Moraga -- then called the McCosker Ranch -- that has been in his family for six generations.