Working in a fruit orchard cannery in San Jose as a school girl gave Former Federal Election Commission chair Ann Ravel a startling glimpse at income inequality, gender and racial disparities. White men were treated and paid better than white women, Latinos and Latina workers, she said.
“I was a member of the union for the workers of the cannery,” Ravel recalled to San Jose Spotlight. “And the women, mostly older Latinas, got paid a lot less than the men, and they were relying on it to support their families. It’s hard work and just to see the families out there, it was definitely an important lesson.”
Born in New York and raised until junior high school in Latin America by her Brazilian mother and American father, Ravel returned to finish school in San Jose. Ravel is one of a handful of candidates running for the District 15 state Senate seat in 2020.
Ravel, 69, a Los Gatos resident, graduated from high school in 1966 before earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley. Ravel said her mother helped pique her interest in public service and social justice from an early age.
“My mother as an immigrant was just so positive about the democracy in the U.S., she became really involved in the League of Women Voters and would take me to all these events when I was little,” Ravel said. “My mother had a high school education and she was an orphan from the time she was 11 and lived with her three sisters. And my father had a similar upbringing in poverty in Philly, so that really imbued the idea of social justice for me.”
This continued into high school and college. Ravel immersed herself into in civil rights and nonviolent student groups.
After attending the University of Hastings Law School, she worked as an attorney in the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office. She then went on to serve on the FPPC, eventually serving as the chair. She was appointed as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Torts and Consumer Litigation in the Civil Division of the United States Department of Justice by President Barack Obama. She was also appointed to the Federal Election Commission by Obama from 2013 to 2017.
Jumping into the political fray
Serving on the FEC made her realize that she could best effect change by serving at the local level. Ravel said it was much harder to accomplish real change on a bipartisan commission at the federal level.
That’s why after years of policing campaign finance and ethics laws, she decided to jump into the fray by running to replace Sen. Jim Beall, who terms out in 2020.
The longtime Democrat joins a slew of elected officials seeking the seat, including San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese and former Assemblywoman Nora Campos.
Ravel’s priorities include working on community issues such as homelessness and the housing crisis, which is pushing residents out of the area. She did some work in this area with Destination: Home in San Jose, which works to address homelessness in Santa Clara County.
CEO Jennifer Loving said Ravel had done some case study work with Destination: Home and called her “terrific.”
Although Ravel has never run for political office, she says her experiences at the Department of Justice and Santa Clara County helped her understand government, more so than most candidates who run for office. Her sole purpose, Ravel said, is to serve as an honest public servant — not a calculated career politician.
Indeed, Ravel drew criticism from her colleagues in 2015 when as an FEC Commissioner she was interviewed by the Daily Show and said the commission is “enormously dysfunctional.”
Until the election, Ravel will continue her work at two law firms and traveling to speak about voting and campaign finance issues.
“More than anything I am really passionate about community and about participation of all members of the community,” Ravel said.