Assemblymember Gregg Hart (right) and Santa Barbara Supervisor Laura Capps | Credit: Courtesy

In the political equivalent of musical chairs, former county supervisor Gregg Hart was sworn in Monday as the newest Assemblymember to represent Santa Barbara. His son and his 92-year-old mother were in attendance. Tuesday morning, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Laura Capps — via press release — to replace Hart as the newest 2nd District County Supervisor. She was officially sworn in early Tuesday morning, just before the supervisors began their weekly meeting.

Hart was sworn in along with 36 other newly elected members, making this year’s class one of the largest ever. In addition, Hart joins a state legislature that boasts 49 women members. That’s a historic high. Five years ago, women made up just 22 percent of the 120 House and Senate seats. 

Hart’s first day was spent in special session convened by Governor Newsom to impose financial penalties — not to be confused with taxes, which would require a two-thirds majority — on oil companies engaged in price gouging at the gas pump. Newsom’s lack of specificity as to what exactly constitutes “windfall profits” by the oil industry — some companies reported a 500 percent increase in earnings — and how such predatory practices can be untangled from a host of other factors that influence the price of gas drew much critical commentary from the oil industry itself. All the key details, said Hart, will be explored after the legislature meets for its regular session this January. “I am excited to learn from these leaders and have no doubt that together we will deliver results for the people of California,” he said.

State Senator Monique Limón — who attended a special meeting with the California Energy Commission on the matter — said the legislature doesn’t have enough information yet as to why and when oil companies shut down refineries for repairs. That timing, she noted, has a major impact on prices. And those price fluctuations, she said, have disparate impacts on lower income communities. “What we are asking for is simple: communication,” she said. “We need more transparency.” 

Back in Santa Barbara, on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building, Laura Capps made poverty the centerpiece of her remarks when the supervisors discussed last year’s legislative agenda and accomplishments in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento. She reminded the county’s legislative representatives to push for extended family leave and for extending earned income tax credits. “We still have extremely high poverty rates in this county,” she said. For all the state and federal money the county collects for those without, Capps said, the county needs to make sure those who could benefit are made aware the programs exist. If people don’t know about them, she said, money is left on the table that could be used to feed hungry people. “When we talk about women and children, we have poverty front and center,” she said. “Most people living in poverty have women as the head of the household. It’s not about empowerment; it’s literally about poverty.” 

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