SEIU California notches election win on CalPERS board with $240,000 in spending

·3 min read
Xavier Mascareñas/xmascarenas@sacbee.com

A candidate backed by the Service Employees International Union has won election to the CalPERS board, marking the third victory by an SEIU-backed candidate in less than a year.

Mullissa Willette, 39, a tax exemption investigator with the Santa Clara County Assessor’s Office, won by a sizable margin with support from several branches of the powerful public employees’ union, according to unofficial CalPERS election results.

Willette received 62% of the vote, defeating Richard Fuentes, a Bay Area Rapid Transit special projects manager, according to CalPERS results posted online last week. Current employees of local governments with CalPERS-administered benefits could vote in the election, and 12,990 of them did so.

An independent expenditure committee formed by SEIU California spent about $206,000 on mailings, polling and other support for Willette, according to state campaign finance records.

Political action committees representing SEIU locals pitched in about $36,000 in direct contributions to her campaign, the records show.

Willette did not respond to voicemails left last week and this week.

Fuentes had union support from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and from political action committees representing police officer unions, the records show.

Willette’s seat on the 13-member board represents public agencies around the state that contract with CalPERS for retirement benefits. There are 1,562 of them, according to CalPERS’ website. That total doesn’t include schools, which have their own representative on the board.

She will serve out the remainder of the term of her predecessor — police officer Jason Perez, who left the board last June – plus a full four-year term. Perez’s term expires in January 2023.

Willette’s win follows SEIU victories in two other CalPERS elections last fall on which the union spent about $500,000. David Miller, an environmental scientist and former union president, won re-election; and Jose Luis Pacheco, a community college IT administrator, defeated incumbent Margaret Brown, a retired school administrator.

Brown, whom SEIU helped defeat last year, was a self-styled watchdog on the board. She advocated for CalPERS to share internal audits publicly and sometimes questioned recommendations from CalPERS staff members more sharply than did her peers.

Perez ran for office questioning CalPERS divestment and green energy policies. On the board, he mostly voted with the majority but sometimes questioned decisions to reduce benefits to retirees whose benefits CalPERS determined were incorrectly calculated.

Willette said she has worked for the Santa Clara County Assessor’s Office for 10 years, and she’s a vice president of San Jose-based SEIU Local 521, representing government and nonprofit employees in the Bay Area.

In a candidate debate, her opponent criticized her for a lack of experience, but she said her experience overseeing the organization’s $30 million budget helped prepare her for a seat on the CalPERS board.

She said she received a certification in modern investment practices for retirement systems from UC Berkeley, and a certification in alternative investments from Harvard Business School.

Terry Brennand, an SEIU California lobbyist, said Willette’s “wealth of experience working with organizations and groups and building consensus and being a leader in the union” made it an “easy call” for the organization to support her.

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