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Opinion: Listening is the greatest skill an elected leader can employ

In the course of political campaigns, there is a debate about qualifications for office. Some say experience matters, and some say that talent can overcome a lack of experience. Like many things in life, there is truth in both sides of this story.
In my many years of serving residents, I can tell you that I have learned a lot. For me, my experience in public service as a councilman, school board member and an advocate for our local economy on the Redevelopment Agency has been valuable beyond words. More importantly, it has given me the opportunity to learn and engage with our community in ways that have strengthened my commitment to those I represent.
My experience has taught me two powerful lessons: 1) listening is the greatest skill an elected leader can employ and 2) big ideas and empty promises mean nothing to communities that are looking for real solutions in their daily lives. We are currently in the throes of election season. Voters will hear candidates promising anything from solving the housing and homeless crisis to fixing our traffic and transportation problems.
Me? I would love to be able to promise my constituents everything. I would love even more to be able to deliver it. But I believe in commitments I can deliver and on the issues that my community is demanding action. I believe that taking the time to meet with the parent concerned about the safety of a local park or the senior with an idea for a continuing senior programs – that work is far more valuable than empty promises.

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Truly serving the people you represent may not be as flashy as big campaign speeches, but in my experience, it is infinitely more important. In the conversations I have every day with the community I represent, I’ve heard the same concerns for the future of Santa Clara County: 1) housing affordability and homelessness, 2) transportation, traffic, and growth, 3) public safety, 4) education, 5) and quality of life issues like parks, open space, libraries, and community centers and their programming. I know that these are not the only challenges we face; our communities differ in so many ways. That diversity of this county is one of the most powerful assets we have.
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On the council, I have made these issues a priority for our city. In my campaign for county supervisor I have spoken to these central challenges of our communities. I also want to be clear that there are other issues of importance that will also have my attention. Important issues such as health care, in-home care for the disabled and seniors, foster children, and conditions around our jail and the care of inmates, they are just as important, and I’m ready to get to work on those as well.
At the end of the day, what I believe matters most – and what we should all be able to expect from the leaders who represent us – is elected officials who are more focused on the people they represent than the politics of their position. It means that we should elect leaders who are looking to see how they can serve the needs of their community, not looking to see their names in headlines.
My promise to Santa Clara County is the same promise I make to the youth sports teams I coach, to the students and parents I represented on the school board, and the neighbors and community members I represent on the city council: I will always listen, I will work hard to help and, together, I am confident we can make things better.
Don Rocha represents District 9 on the San Jose City Council and is a candidate for the District 4 seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

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