The Rev. Jesse Jackson is back in the valley.

The renowned civil rights leader told the Mercury News editorial board Thursday that his Rainbow PUSH Coalition plans to revitalize its Silicon Valley project and make its case to the region's top tech firms that "we need to democratize the economy."

The lack of minorities in Silicon Valley's upper echelons is symptomatic of an economic apartheid that is less visible than the segregation of half a century ago but just as pernicious, he said.

"This valley is driving the industrial growth of America -- in fact, it's driving global growth," Jackson said. But while people of color constitute a huge part of the marketplace for tech products and services, he said, they're woefully underrepresented in the sector's executive offices and boardrooms.

"To make America America, all of us must play," he said.

It's not a new theme. The Rainbow PUSH Coalition in 1999 bought stock in 50 Silicon Valley companies so it could have a say at annual shareholder meetings.

Jackson at the time ended up in an op-ed war with Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers, who contended that the tech industry was a meritocracy offering equal access to anyone with the talent, education and ambition to succeed.

"Once, the civil rights movement was led by a great American who stirred the conscience of the nation," Rodgers wrote. "Today, its most visible spokesman is a hustler who exploits white shame for his own financial and political ends."


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Jackson on Thursday scoffed at the idea that there aren't enough minorities entering the industry with appropriate training: "It's almost insulting to suggest they can't be found.

"We can't go on this way," he said. "We must begin to take these numbers back across the country to make people aware of who are partners and who are not."

Reminded about his war of words with Rodgers, Jackson smiled and asked: "Is he still around?" Assured that he was, Jackson quipped that he wouldn't mind meeting up with Rodgers -- perhaps for a round of golf "one night."

IA would like to caddy.

De La Torre determined to return to Texas

Breaking up is hard to do, even when you know the divorce is coming. There's no love lost between the Santa Clara County Board of Education and Superintendent Xavier De La Torre, who on Feb. 12 was named the top choice to lead the Ysleta Independent School District in El Paso, Texas.

De La Torre told the El Paso Times that he had been applying for jobs in Texas, and if he doesn't get Ysleta's top job -- the board is set to make its decision official March 5 -- he will continue searching in the Lone Star State. Partly, it seems, it's the lure of Texas, where he worked for three years before becoming Santa Clara County superintendent of schools in July 2012.

"I've come to believe that Texas is better positioned to succeed and improve in our public school system than California is," he said. "Texas is doing well, and I want that for my kids."

Because San Jose schools -- De La Torre, his wife and five children live in the Cambrian elementary and Campbell High school districts -- aren't good enough? We don't know, because the superintendent hasn't returned our calls.

He also compared his current job heading the county office of education to running a regional service center, a task that made him feel removed from schools.

"My work and passion have been working directly with teachers, administrators and communities," De La Torre said.

Earlier this month, De La Torre seemed to blame his board for the difficulty in establishing rapport with the superintendents of Santa Clara County's 31 school districts: It was because they were so angry about his bosses' 2011 approval (before his tenure) of 20 Rocketship charter schools.

"Often times it would come up in conversations -- that decision demonstrated an absence of thoughtful and deliberate process," De La Torre said. "I wasn't part of it, but I was certainly aware of the aftermath and impact it had on the relationship with some superintendents."

For its part, the county school board did not sound sad about De La Torre's impending move to Texas. "The board respects his decision and wishes him well in his new endeavor" an official statement said. Trustees have steadfastly refused any comment. We'll see if they cheer after March 5.

For many prosecutors and public defenders, judgeship is a pay cut

A $181,292-a-year salary. Simple dress code (black robe). All sorts of folks bowing and scraping before you. Why don't more people in Santa Clara County run for judge?

We naively thought it was just the hassle of asking people for campaign money, the energy it takes to run or the potential embarrassment of losing. We overlooked the obvious: money.

There's a financial disincentive for many prosecutors and public defenders who work for Santa Clara County to seek a seat on the bench. Senior government attorneys earn $195,340 a year. So if they win a seat on the bench, they take a 7 percent pay cut, about $14,048.

Then there's retirement. Santa Clara County government attorneys are eligible to retire as early as 50 with 2 percent of their salary for every year they've worked. If they hang on until 55, they get 2.5 percent of pay for each year on the job. Judges, on the other hand, must serve 20 years to retire at age 65. They get 3.75 percent for every year on the bench, but it's capped at 75 percent of total salary. Also, county government lawyers who leave the job before turning 50 can also lose lifetime free medical benefits.

Family therapist plans

to run against Rocha

For a while, it looked as if at least one of the two San Jose city councilmen up for re-election this year might get a free pass. Alas for Don Rocha, it appears that's not the case. The District 9 councilman, a swing vote with both business and labor backing, has drawn a challenger. Lois Wilco-Owens, a marriage and family therapist, has pulled nomination papers indicating plans to run for Rocha's seat. Apart from her occupation, we don't know much about her. Rocha said she wasn't on his radar either.

Nevertheless, Rocha -- who had vacillated over whether even to seek re-election -- now finds himself having to gin up a campaign to keep his job. But he said he's "proud of my work."

"We have managed items such as the convention center expansion, economic development efforts, a new general plan, getting our structural budget deficit under control, medicinal marijuana (with more work to be done), and the new Earthquakes stadium," he said.

Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Josh Richman, Sharon Noguchi, Tracey Kaplan, John Woolfolk and Paul Rogers. Send tips to internalaffairs@mercurynews.com, or call 408-920-5782.

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