One of these years Jim Beall will be at the base of the Andes Mountains, ready to climb one of the world's highest mountain ranges. And if he's lucky, he'll find a few precious gems while he's up there and later maybe make jewelry out of them to sell under his online handle, "Jim's Stones."
But that day doesn't look like it will be here anytime soon, and it certainly wasn't anything close to the kind of day Beall expected to have when he climbed up the steps of the State Capitol on an overcast February morning with a coffee cup instead of a trekking pole in his hand.
The cup would keep Beall going until about 12:55 p.m., when for just a brief and short-lived 10 minutes, he would retire to the "members lounge" across from the Senate Hearing Room for a light lunch consisting of an apple, a bowl of celery sticks and bottle of water to fuel him for the second part of the day: No staff or reporters allowed.
But first, there was the prescription of psychotropic drugs in foster care to talk about with San Jose Mercury News reporter Karen de Sa, greenhouse gas emission reduction goals to chew over with Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and company, funding for centers for the developmentally disabled to discuss with six members of the Lanterman Coalition, followed by a quick meeting with Tesla staffers and a briefing of bills in the pipeline with his policy analyst, Sarah Larson.
And that's just the first part of the day. After lunch, he meets with three lobbyists from the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority to talk about electric light rail, after which he hosts a lengthy hearing on providing mental health services in schools.
By the time his next meeting starts at 1:15 p.m., he's yet to take a bite out of his apple and politely asks the Capitol Corridor guys, "Can I eat an apple? This is my lunch."
Every so often his scheduler, Gillian Eppinette, drops by to patiently inform him he's gone over schedule, and within minutes everyone is standing up around the long conference table in Beall's office, hands are shaken and promises are made to follow up.
This was a day in the life of a 64-year-old state senator who has been in the political game for as long as--if not longer than--some of his six staffers have been alive. It's a day that would leave most people exhausted just from the sheer effort of having to listen to people talk all day, and very attentively at that. But for Beall, it was par for the course.
To decompress, he says he finds walking helpful and sometimes practices yoga. At home, he and his wife of 33 years, Pat, like to take their dog, a miniature Parson Russell Terrier mix that they adopted from the San Jose Animal Shelter last year, to the dog park.
His favorite hobby, though, is collecting stones and making jewelry out of them. Once in a while, he says, he goes up to the mountains and collects stones such as garnet and amethyst that he then brings back to his makeshift workshop in his garage. He has been doing this for 20 years and counts his wife and friends as beneficiaries of his jewelry gifts.
Some people, he said, have suggested that he take it up as a second calling once he retires from politics one day. And if he did, he'd probably call this venture "Jim's Stones," he said. But first he needs to get some more equipment before embarking on this quest, and that list includes a new diamond saw and polishing equipment.
The 45-year political veteran is well-versed in the realms of finance, transportation, housing, local government land use, infrastructure, developmental disabilities and mental health.
In fact, the big hearing of the day is on mental health and schools. It's a three-hour affair and the last order of business on Beall's schedule, but it's also one that is near and dear to his heart.
"I'm kind of the mental health guy," he said. He's working on legislation, he says, to bring comprehensive services to schools. It's his attempt at bridging the education and health systems. The purpose of the hearing, he told his audience, is to hear from people about how to improve those services.
"Every time I talk about this issue, I think about Audrie Pott," he said on his way out of the hearing. "In my mind, this is sort of a follow-up to Audrie's Law."
Beall was referring to a 2014 law that increases punishment for juveniles convicted of sexually abusing unconscious and disabled victims. The law is named after Audrie Pott, the 15-year-old Saratoga teenager who took her own life 3½ years ago after she was sexually assaulted by three teenage boys while unconscious at a Labor Day weekend party.
For this particular hearing, he had invited Shannon Zepeda, a Madera County resident, to come and speak about her troubled son, Christian, and their family's experience dealing with his school while he was in and out of hospitals seeking treatment for depression and suicidal tendencies. Through tears, Zepeda recounted how her son went from being a straight-A student-athlete and "every teacher's dream" to desperately finding ways to end his life.
"I would ask that we kind of be creative about solving this for small and big counties," Beall said. "We have a disparate level of service here, and that's very disturbing."
It was Beall who had gotten teary-eyed earlier when he first greeted Zepeda at his office. After telling her about the tapestry of artwork on his wall--created by Sacramento-area children with developmental disabilities--he embraced her and her husband and tearfully told them he knew their pain, having a stepson who lives in a home for the developmentally disabled.
"It requires a huge amount of a reservoir of strength to do that, so I knew what she was going through," he later said. "I've seen it in the frustration in our only family. I related to it."
When asked whom he is considering voting for president, Beall answers "Hillary Clinton" without hesitation, citing her efforts on issues that impact children and work for the Children's Defense Fund above all as the impetus for his decision.
"I think that we need a president that focuses on issues and I think Hillary does focus on a lot of these types of issues, and I think her experience on foreign policy issues, defense department issues, children's issues, just the breadth of her experience--and it's sort of her personal commitment in her life--to those issues," he said. "I admire that in her."
At the end of the meeting, Beall heads back upstairs to meet with his staff before calling it a night. He typically heads to a local vegetarian restaurant for dinner and then retires to a nearby hotel that he stays at when he's in Sacramento. There, he prepares himself a cup of decaf coffee and spends the rest of his evening either reading or preparing for his meetings the following day.
He's up and back at it the next morning around 6 a.m., squeezing in time for a walk ("It helps me to focus or center myself in terms of my mission for the day," he says) and a breakfast consisting mainly of fruit. A vegetarian for more than 20 years, Beall lately has been working on cutting out carbs and sugar from his diet. He says his decision to live as a vegetarian was partly motivated by a desire to improve his health, to protect animals and because he lost his good friend and colleague, George Shirakawa Sr., to a heart attack that resulted from health issues.
"We would have dinner, and we'd talk about changing our diet and getting healthy and stuff like that," he said. "I kind of felt I was very affected by George passing away. We had talked about getting ourselves ready to live a long life and serving the public and all the things we wanted to do."
After breakfast, "The engine starts and I just keep going all day."
Beall's week starts around 6 a.m. on Monday, when he makes the drive from San Jose, where he lives in a Willow Glen neighborhood with his wife, his stepson Mark and his 12-year-old step-grandson Jack. He arrives in Sacramento around 9 a.m. He's there until about Thursday morning, before heading back to the South Bay--unless there's a morning legislative session that he has to stay back for, in which case he'll drive back in the afternoon. During busy budget periods, it's not unusual for him to stay on Fridays and even the occasional Saturday.
"There are times of the year that are very, very, very busy," he said, "meetings that go into midnight."
Typically, he's in the South Bay through Sunday night, and on those days he squeezes in appointments with his constituents. Beall represents District 15, an area comprised of 950,000 residents encompassing the municipalities of Cupertino, Los Gatos, Campbell, Saratoga, Monte Sereno and the San Jose communities of Willow Glen, Almaden, Evergreen, East San Jose and downtown.
Beall has lived in San Jose "pretty much" his whole life, he says. His mother, in fact, still lives less than two miles away from him. She used to be in education and still calls her son every once in a while to critique his presentations. His late father worked as a title insurance salesman and was a paratrooper in World War II. In his younger days, he worked for John Steinbeck by picking prunes in the hills of Los Gatos, where Steinbeck lived when he was writing "The Grapes of Wrath," Beall said.
Beall comes from a big family, both in terms of size--he has nine brothers and sisters--and height--the men in the family range in height from 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-8.
"Being the oldest son is kind of interesting in terms of the oldest son has to be sort of the protector, so I have served that," he said. "My mom and dad [would say], 'Don't let anything happen to the kids,' so I kind of have a protection mentality that came from when I was a kid."
Growing up, he said, he worked in the fields picking and hauling vegetables and held down jobs at Kmart and Mervyn's to pay his way through school. He attended Bellarmine College Preparatory and San Jose State University, graduating with a degree in political science. Today, the proud Spartan has a family photo in his office that's mounted in a Spartan picture frame.
It was in the fields, not in a classroom, where Beall first took an interest in politics.
"I saw people being discriminated against, and I think at the time I got angry about it and that turned into a resolve for, I would say, a visceral tendency in my life for social justice as a driving force for what I do, making sure everyone is treated equally," he said.
His first job out of college was in the planning department in the town of Los Gatos. He loved the job so much that if he wasn't successful in politics, he said, he'd continue to work as an urban planner.
"I enjoy the issues of planning and design and architecture," he said.
By now, his family is "pretty used" to his being away most of the time, Beall said. His wife worked in the Foothill-De Anza Community College District for many years, but is now retired.
"We don't like it," he said. "It's not fun to be away from the family. That's probably ... if you say what's the No. 1 bad thing about the job, that's it. I don't like being in a hotel room."
If anyone has earned the right to gripe about their job, it's Beall. After all, he's spent more than four decades in the field: 35 years of which he has spent as an elected official, working 60 to 70 hours a week. But his love of what he does still keeps him going, he said.
"Of course, I'm not the same person as I was when I was 28 years old, obviously, but I think I really believe that serving the public in terms of the area I live--listening to them--is very important, and I try my best to provide them with a real high-end public servant."
And just as much as anyone, Beall has earned his retirement, although it is still a good five years down the line as he still has one more election in him. But after that, he'll be taking to his bucket list--and his jewelry workshop. He envisions his life post-politics as one that will include a little volunteer work, some mentoring, possibly writing a book and traveling. He's got his sights on South America, particularly the regions of Argenita, the Andes, Chile and Peru, and stateside the Rockies and Alaska.
"I'm a very casual guy," he says.