California State Senator John Laird representing District 17, which includes Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo Counties, as well as Portions of Monterey and Santa Clara Counties A Life of Public Service
John Laird, who was elected to the California State Senate on November 3, 2020, has had a lifetime of public service that began more than 40 years ago as a Santa Cruz City Councilmember as he was entering his 30s. His career includes eight years as Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency under Governor Jerry Brown, six years as an elected member of the California State Assembly, nine years on the Santa Cruz City Council, two terms as Mayor of that city, and an elected member of the Cabrillo College Board of Trustees for eight years. Laird has also served as Executive Director of the Santa Cruz AIDS Project, taught environmental policy at the University of California Santa Cruz, hosted a news talk program on KUSP public radio, and held analyst positions in budgeting and human resources for the County of Santa Cruz. In a recent interview with Western Grower & Shipper, he noted that when working on the most recent California State Budget as a member of the Senate Budget Committee, there was virtually no aspect of that budget in which he did not have firsthand knowledge as a public policy advocate, teacher and participant for the past 40-plus years. Laird was born in Santa Rosa in 1950 and was raised in Vallejo by his parents who were teachers by profession. He graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz with a degree in politics in 1972. He continues to be a long-time resident of that city with his spouse, John Flores, and claims his fandom of the Chicago Cubs as one of his lifetime passions. Immediately after college, Laird began his
Laird listed the increase in fires California is experiencing year in and year out as well as the seemingly ever-present drought as proof of the major impact climate change is having on his constituents, including production agriculture. Though the most recent climate change assessment in early August by the United Nations painted a very dim future if immediate worldwide action is not taken, Laird chooses to be an optimist. “I think there is a distinct possibility that the monumental outcomes of fire and drought will be a wake-up call,” he said, expressing hope that minds will be changed. He did express frustration that many people are arguing over the cause of the change rather than dealing with its outcomes. While the California Legislature is just one small player on the world stage, Laird does believe it can lead the way on public policy. He points to the passage of Assembly Bill 32 in 2006, while he was in the California State Assembly, which required California to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHC) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020—a reduction of approximately 15 percent below emissions expected under a “business as usual” scenario. “We did meet those goals…if only the other 49 states would have followed our lead,” he mused. He believes the California Legislature should set additional goals and targets and take the reduction of GHC emissions to the next level. “All politics are local,” he argues in advocating for the state to continue to take a leadership role in addressing climate change.
political career as a member of the district staff of U.S. Representative Jerome Waldie, which fostered his appetite for a political career. It is his desire to get things done that led to his public service and fueled his desire to come back to the California State Legislature in 2020. Working on public policy is his calling, with climate change being the most pressing issue currently grabbing his attention. “Climate change dominates everything,” he said, explaining why he ran for office again in 2020. “Being from a coastal district, I am witnessing the impact it is having on a daily basis.”
SEPTEMBER | OCTOBER 2021
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