UPDATE 1/13/22: In a statement released Thursday, County Supervisor Gregg Hart officially announced he is running to represent the Central Coast as the State Assemblymember for California’s 37th Assembly District.
“I believe in a California that works for all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic has tested our state in many ways, but I know that we can work together to chart a bright future,” Hart said in his statement. “From increasing educational opportunities and reducing homelessness to preparing for emergencies and supporting the health and safety of our communities, I’m eager to get to work on behalf of the Central Coast in Sacramento.”
On his service as a county supervisor, Hart said: “Since taking office in 2019, I have worked with my colleagues to invest in our community’s resilience, help people in need, and strengthen our local economy. I would be grateful for the opportunity to continue this work in the California State Assembly.”
ORIGINAL STORY: After months of hand-wringing and speculation among the handicappers and political prognosticators, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gregg Hart has finally put the word out that he will be running for State Assembly this June and not for another term as county supervisor. He has not yet officially confirmed these reports.
Hart — a lifelong Democrat, more pragmatic than ideological — would have been a shoo-in were he to run again for county supervisor. But given the new district boundaries for the State Assembly seat — which for the first time encompasses all of Santa Barbara County with just a sliver of a fingernail jutting into San Luis Obispo County — his victory has the air of inevitability about it. To date, two candidates have already announced for the new assembly seat — Jonathan Abboud, who represents Isla Vista on the City College Board of Trustees, and Gabe Escobedo, a City of Santa Barbara Planning Commissioner.
Hart started his political career as a political staff person for Jack O’Connell, former state assemblymember, former state senator, and former head of statewide education. Hart served many terms on the Santa Barbara City Council, was appointed to the California Coastal Commission, became politically estranged from his political base and vice versa, and came back and took a high-ranking technocrat job with the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, where he played a key role behind the scenes pushing for freeway widening.
In recent years, Hart had a political reawakening, running again for City Council — almost unopposed — and provided an increasingly rare sense of ballast among an increasingly fragmented City Council. While he never became an ideologist, Hart, the former centrist, took on a notably more progressive tilt. Since running for 2nd District county supervisor, he’s championed criminal justice reform and a more comprehensive approach toward those without homes.
Equipped with millions of one-time state federal emergency dollars, Hart put his considerable skills and ready grin to effective use. Throughout the first year of the COVID pandemic, he served as board chair and used his position to host weekly media events at which public health officials answered questions and gave updates on what the state of the state was when it came to the county’s response to COVID. As such, Hart played the role of ringleader without making the show about him. He was relentlessly upbeat in his delivery and steadfast in his insistence on education as opposed to enforcement.
Hart has long had aspirations and ambitions for statewide office. More than once in the past, he’s been told it wasn’t his turn to run. This time around, he was the putative front-runner long before the district boundaries were drawn. Briefly, it appeared he might have no choice; for a moment, the boundaries of his supervisorial district had been redrawn in such a way that he would have had to move in with his mother if he wanted to run again. That map, however, did not prevail, and even with the new supervisorial maps, Hart would have had a clear shot. If anything, the 2nd District got even more secure as it now includes the voters of Isla Vista and UCSB.
Hart’s decision — not yet officially announced — has triggered a tidal wave of informed speculation about likely contenders for his supervisorial seat. Leading the list of names is Santa Barbara Unified school boardmembers Laura Capps and Wendy Sims-Moten. Also mentioned is Luz Reyes-Martín, a member of the Goleta school board and Democratic Party stalwart.
The irony of Hart’s decision is lost on none of his colleagues, who started out the beginning of the first supervisorial meeting of the New Year by extolling how wonderful it was to have a board on which all the supervisors — regardless of their party or ideological tilt — enjoyed such collegial relationships. As more than a few supervisors have since wondered, maybe that jinxed things. Hart, by any reckoning, functioned as the yeast that made the bread rise, quietly, affably, intelligently, and insistently pushing his agenda. While Hart will serve out the year, he will no doubt be distracted by the exigencies of political campaigning and positioning himself for his next incarnation in Sacramento.
In the meantime, that thudding sound you might soon be hearing is that of the other shoes beginning to drop.