John Laird

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John Laird

John Laird was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, in January 2011, as California Secretary of Natural Resources.

In the California Assembly, and as a City Councilman in Santa Cruz, Laird "regularly showed his knowledge and concern for ocean and coastal protection and the environment, battling against offshore oil drilling, co-authoring AB 32—the state’s landmark clean energy law—and advancing implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act and the statewide network of marine protected areas that can help rebuild California’s fisheries. Laird also authored legislation calling upon the Ocean Protection Council to support better fisheries management through strategic grants.

Better than most anyone with his kind of environmental credentials, Laird knows the nuts and bolts of the state budget. While in the State Assembly in 2002-2008, Laird served as Chair of the Budget Committee and Special Session Committee on Budget Process. Governor Brown and Californians will benefit greatly from have Laird’s experience and expertise to call upon. And in tough budget times, the state’s natural resources will benefit from having someone representing them who knows the budget as deeply as Laird does."[1]


The son of teachers and raised in Vallejo, Laird graduated with honors in politics from the University of California Santa Cruz in 1972. He then served on the district staff of U.S. Representative Jerome Waldie, and as a budget analyst for the Santa Cruz County Administrator.

In 1981, Laird was elected to the Santa Cruz City Council, and served nine years until term limits ended his council service in 1990. He was a two-term mayor from 1983 to 1984 and from 1987 to 1988. During his local government service, he served as a board member for local transit, transportation, water planning, and regional government agencies. Laird was the executive director of the Santa Cruz AIDS Project from 1991 to 1994 and an elected member of the Cabrillo College Board of Trustees from 1994 to 2002.

In 2002, Laird was elected to represent the 27th Assembly District in the California Assembly, which includes portions of Santa Cruz, Monterey and Santa Clara Counties. He was re-elected in 2004 and again in 2006, when he received more than 70 percent of the vote. At the beginning of his second term, Laird joined the Assembly leadership team when Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez named him chair of the Budget Committee, a position to which he was reappointed by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass in 2008.

While serving the maximum three terms in the Assembly, Laird authored 82 bills that were signed into law. These bills established the landmark Sierra Nevada Conservancy, restored community college health services, expanded and clarified state civil rights protections, reformed the state mandates system, and significantly expanded water conservation.

Laird was a member of the State Integrated Waste Management Board from 2008 to 2009 and taught state environmental policy at University of California Santa Cruz.

Continuing his public service as California’s Secretary of Natural Resources, Laird has made climate change adaptation, water conservation and supply reliability, enhanced relationships with tribal governments, State Parks access, farmland conservation, and oceans sustainability among other issues top priorities. As Secretary, he provides administrative oversight to thirty departments, commissions, councils, museum, boards and conservancies – and is a sitting member of sixteen conservancies, councils, boards and commissions within the purview of the Agency.[2]

Early life/education

Raised in Vallejo, California, and educated in Vallejo public schools, John Laird¹s parents were both educators. He graduated from Adlai Stevenson College in 1972 with an A.B. in Politics -- and general college honors, honors from the Board of Politics, and honors on an undergraduate thesis on the history of water development in California[3].

Early politics

John Laird served for two years on the district staff of Representative Jerome Waldie, and worked during the summer of 1974 for Rep. Bill Gunter of Florida in his run for the U.S. Senate. He joined the staff of the Santa Cruz County Administrator in 1974 and later served in the personnel and social services departments. He was a manager for the County Personnel Department for the seven years prior to his election to the State Assembly[4].

"Progressive" candidate

Progressives came up with two ideal candidates to add to the two New American Movement members, Mike Rotkin and Bruce Van Allen - Mardi Wormhoudt and John Laird. John Laird, a UC Santa Cruz alumnus, was a member of the neighborhood group founded by the New American Movement activists, as well as the Peoples Democratic Club and gay and lesbian organizations. Employed as a county budget analyst, he had helped a wide range of community activist groups prepare their budget requests for presentation to supervisorial meetings in the mid-1970s. He also had taken an active role in the 1978 campaign to defeat a statewide initiative that would have prohibited gays and lesbians from teaching in the public schools. He later went on to be elected to the state assembly in Sacramento, where he played a very important legislative role in the first eight years of this century.[5]

The downtown growth coalition pulled out every stop in an effort to defeat Wormhoudt and Laird. They talked about the dangers of socialism, although neither of these two candidates talked about socialism, and they used old scare tactics about outside agitators that turned out not to work any longer. They spent a fortune on advertising. But Laird and Wormhoudt won, and Santa Cruz has been governed by people of their political leanings ever since.

Mardi Wormhoudt and John Laird were both members of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee[6]. In late 1981 our out of seven city councilors in Santa Cruz, California were DSOC/ NAM members. Mike Rotkin was California's only socialist mayor and Bruce Van Allen was a socialist vice-mayor. DSOC members Fran Cooper and Kevin Finney were campaign manager and treasurer for John Laird's campaign. He and progressive Mardi Wormhoudt received more votes than any previous council candidate.

They joined Rotkin and Van Allen to form the first progressive council majority in the city's history .... Also on the Santa Cruz ballot was an initiative measure to put the city on record against U.S. aid to the government of El Salvador, which passed by more than a 2-1 margin. Members of NAM and DSOC filled most of the key roles in that campaign, with DSOCer Daniel Hersh acting as one of three campaign coordinators. Santa Cruz DSOC and NAM have completed a local merger .[7]

Origins of the movement

According to leftist academic William Domhoff, the "progressive takeover of political power in Santa Cruz in 1981 ...did not happen in a vacuum."

Domhoff claims that a creation of the radical Institute for Policy Studies, the Conference on Alternative State and Local Policies, was behind the movement;[8]

The decision by previously non-electoral activist groups to challenge in city elections came in a much wider context of progressive analysis, discussion, and political activity at the local level in the 1970s. Its deepest roots were in medium-sized cities such as Madison, Wisconsin, Berkeley, and Santa Monica, although major battles were fought in San Francisco, Boston, and Cleveland as well. These efforts were facilitated by the creation of the Conference on Alternative State and Local Policies in 1974, which brought together progressive activists with elected and appointed officials from across the country for annual meetings to exchange ideas.
The Conference on Alternative State and Local Policies published numerous booklets and pamphlets that disseminated what were thought to be the most promising ideas for progressive social change, including various kinds of electoral reforms such as replacing at-large elections with districts and abolishing the city-manager form of government. Community control of the police was another program of major interest. The group had larger hopes, such as public ownership of "productive enterprise," meaning that cities would own some profit making ventures, as well as for greater citizen participation in all aspects of government. The blueprint for change started with community-owned public utilities, especially electric utilities, where there was a history of public ownership in a few cities and confidence on the part of progressives that they could be run more efficiently than they are by private companies. Ownership of public utilities was understood as a stepping-stone to legitimating public ownership of other enterprises, such as the new industry of cable television, where there were 14 publicly owned TV systems at the time.

Santa Cruz politics

In 1981, Assemblymember Laird received the most votes in a field of eight to be elected to a seat on the Santa Cruz City Council. He was re-elected as top vote-getter in 1985, serving until term limits ended his Council service in 1990. He was elected by the City Council to one-year Mayor's terms in 1983-84 and 1987-88 ­ being one of the first openly gay Mayors in the United States upon his first election in 1983.

Mr. Laird has been active in the Santa Cruz community, serving as Vice-Chair of the City Charter Review Committee, a founder of the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union, and a board member of the Santa Cruz Area Chamber of Commerce. He has been active on a variety of community boards -- including those dealing with seniors, child care, civil liberties, and people with disabilities. He was a member of SEIU Local 415 and most recently was a member of the Board of the Cabrillo College Foundation, President-elect of the UCSC Alumni Association, and Chair of the local Sierra Club's Water Resources Committee.[9]

Democratic Party and Leon Panetta

John Laird has worked in every aspect of Democratic Party politics, as a six-time delegate to Democratic national conventions, a twenty-five year member of the state Democratic Central Committee, an Electoral College member from California in 1992, 1996 and 2000, Chair of both County-wide Democratic campaigns and the County Democratic Committee (1994-98), President of the Peoples Democratic Club, and an active campaign committee member in the first congressional campaign of Leon Panetta[10].

Laird says that of the political efforts "of which he is most proud was as an early volunteer in Leon Panetta's first congressional campaign". [11]

In the 1980s John Laird and Santa Cruz activist Annie Notthoff, worked with Congressman Leon Panetta and US Senator Pete Wilson to "protect California’s coastal environment and economy from offshore oil drilling proposals". [12]

Labor Day picnic

Sharing greetings, shaking candidates’ hands, shouting updates over hot dogs and burgers in a DeLaveaga Park picnic grove, Santa Cruz’s 2016 Labor Day Picnic made room for local workers and politics alike Monday.

Nearly 200 people, many of them running for local, state and federal offices in November, turned out for the annual event put on by the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council for the 64 unions it represents in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. At least nine of the 11 Santa Cruz City Council candidates mingled with their Watsonville counterparts, while state Rep. Mark Stone and Jimmy Panetta, candidate for the 20th District U.S. Assembly both gave short speeches in front of those gathered.

“This is a who’s who of labor and politics and the symbiotic relationship that exists between labor and Democrats especially,” said Tony Russomanno, a Santa Cruz County Democratic Central Committee member. “Democrats need to stop taking our friends for granted. Labor is a friend of Democrats, so we need to renew that friendship all the time.”

Russomanno, who served as National Democratic Convention delegate for Hillary Clinton, commended the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council’s political coordinator Glen Schaller for bringing the six California Democrat delegates for both Clinton and Bernie Sanders together on labor-related slates while running for delegate positions.

“It’s a model for what other political organizers for other labor organizations should be doing around the state,” Russomanno said. “Glen realized we’re not just supporting Bernie, we’re supporting labor, so why not get labor people to vote Bernie and Hillary.”

Monterey Bay Central Labor Council President Robert Chacanaca was quick to point out that the celebration, and Labor Day in general, are good for the American people. He listed off some labor-earned working conditions ranging from weekends off and eight-hour workdays to child labor protections and more.

“If you ask, they’ll say Labor Day is us,” said Chacanaca, gesturing to the crowd in attendance. “If you ask a person on the street, if you ask some kid in school why. They know it. Like Veterans Day. And it still stands.”

California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird gave picnickers a highlights reel of November ballot measures he felt they should remember to vote on.

“Don’t forget, this isn’t just about dumping Trump,” Laird, of Santa Cruz, said. “This is about the ballot measures and local offices and the things where people will make decisions and money is appropriated. So make sure you vote, make sure tell everybody about it, make sure that they don’t get so tired they don’t vote appropriately on the 17 propositions.”

Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado wrapped a “living necklace” — his rescue 25-year-old pet gopher snake Rosco — around the necks of willing picnic attendees while a Donald Trump pinata was batted around with soft foam noodles by children nearby. Delgado said many people get caught up in thinking of Labor Day as a holiday for play.[13]

Bob Hertzberg endorsement

In 2022, the Muslim Democratic Club of Southern California backed Bob Hertzberg in the race for L.A. County’s 3rd Supervisorial District. State Sens. Mike McGuire, Melissa Hurtado, Tom Umberg and John Laird also backed Hertzberg. Supervisor Holly Mitchell backed his opponent, Lindsey Horvath, as did Northridge Indivisible and Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler. [14]

Panetta/Eshoo connection

Anna Eshoo and Jimmy Panetta with John Laird.


On May 31, (2018) Santa Cruz Indivisible is launching its California Leadership Series to bring prominent California leaders to Santa Cruz to discuss important issues facing California and the nation.

At our first event—A Conversation with Our Members of Congress—California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird will moderate a discussion with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Congressman Jimmy Panetta.



  1. [Switchboard: Natural Resource Defense Council Blog, John Laird named to key environmental post in Brown administration, Annie Nothoff, January 6, 2011]
  2. [1]
  6. Mother Jones Magazine Feb-Mar 1982 page 11
  7. [DEMOCRATIC LEFT December 1981, page 14]
  11. Full Biography for John Laird Candidate for Member; California State Assembly; District 27, November 5, 2002 Election
  12. [Switchboard: Natural Resource Defense Council Blog, John Laird named to key environmental post in Brown administration, Annie Nothoff, January 6, 2011]
  13. [Santa Cruz sentinel, Santa Cruz Labor Day picnic draws ‘who’s who’ of local Democrat politiciansBy Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel POSTED: 09/05/16, 5:35 PM PDT ]
  14. [2]