Ken Yeager, California, 1992
Born December 12, 1952
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, District 4
San Jose, California
Elected San Jose/Evergreen Community College Trustee 1992
Elected City Council November 2000
Elected Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors June, 2006
Essay by Ken Yeager for Out and Elected in the USA
People often ask me how I became involved in politics. It’s a hard question to answer, although I know my interest began at an early age. Two weeks after starting the seventh grade in my hometown of Riverside, California, I ran for class president and won. I do not know what possessed me to run or, to be more accurate, what possessed my mother to encourage me to run. Surely it was her idea since I had never been so much as a room monitor in elementary school. All through junior high and high school, I held a variety of positions in student government and on the school newspaper. Holding office gave me a great deal of confidence and helped me establish my own identity.
I attended San Jose State University where I majored in political science. During my senior year, I interned at City Hall and worked on a political campaign. This began a decade-long pattern of work where I alternated between public policy jobs and campaign consulting.
In 1984, after returning from work in Washington, D.C. as a press secretary for a local member of Congress, I realized there was no organized group protecting the rights of gays and lesbians. Eager to use my political expertise to form such a group, I co-founded the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee (BAYMEC), an organization that still exists today and is one of the largest in California.
BAYMEC did more than satisfy my need to do gay politics; it fulfilled an emotional need to connect to people. BAYMEC provided me a conduit to the gay community that I could never get through gay bars. As BAYMEC grew, I was like a proud parent who became more outwardly focused once a reason to exist beyond himself was found. John Gardner, a writer of several books on leadership, explained this best when he wrote, “Young people run around searching for identity, but it is not handed out free, not in this transient, rootless, pluralistic society. You have to build meaning into your life, and you build it through your commitments. Your identity is what you’ve committed yourself to.”
A year later, I began graduate school at Stanford. I continued to serve as treasure of BAYMEC and managed the two South Bay anti-LaRouuch AIDS quarantine campaigns in 1986 and 1989. I earned two masters and a doctorate. After graduating in 1990, I was hired to teach in the political science department at San Jose State where my focus is American and California government, gay and lesbian politics, and political campaigns.
A political office often overlooked by candidates is that of community college trustee. In California, community college trustees have real power, making policy on issues dealing with curriculum, vocational education, academic standards, collective bargaining, etc. In the community college district where I live, there are two colleges with a combined student population of 25,000 and an operating budget of $70 million.
I had paid my political dues, was a good match for the district, knew how to run campaigns, and had the academic and professional credentials to be a legitimate candidate. After a hard-fought campaign, I was elected, becoming the first openly elected official in San Jose and Silicon Valley. I was reelected in 1996.
I ran for state assembly in 1996, coming in second in the Democratic primary. In 1999, I published a book, Trailblazers: Profiles of America’s Gay and Lesbian Elected Officials (Haworth Press). I wrote it for two reasons: First, I wanted there to be a historical record of some of these unique individuals; second, I hoped people would be inspired enough by the book to either run for office or become involved in politics.
Today I am running for city council in San Jose. Although my political campaigns are now very sophisticated, I am always reminded of junior high when my family would sit around the kitchen table making campaign buttons out of construction paper and writing clever political slogans that Mom made up as we went along.