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How Bill Monning Modeled California’s Blue Wave

Bill Monning door knocking





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It’s a quiet early morning on the weekend earlier than Election Day. In a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Merced, one of the highly effective members of the California State Legislature—Senate Majority Chief Bill Monning, who represents Santa Cruz and the Central Coast—is partaking voters on behalf of his good friend and longtime political ally, Anna Caballero, a candidate for the sprawling State Senate District 12 seat.

A transparent cerulean sky stretches out in all instructions as Monning treks alongside the nondescript collection of tract houses in search of out voters in help of Caballero. It’s a surprisingly scorching day for early November, and temperatures will climb into the excessive 80s later within the afternoon. Wearing blue denims, a short-sleeved blue polo shirt and a well-worn College of California baseball cap (Monning is a proud Cal alum), the sandy-haired senator walks from home to deal with.

What he discovers is a captivating cross-section of California—one household from El Salvador, a younger single mom and waitress raised in close by Ceres, three generations of a Vietnamese household within the midst of celebrating an ornate ceremony welcoming a new child child into their residence.

Precincts like this one characterize the deep trenches of California politics. The get together or candidate with the most effective area operation usually has an edge in any given election. However it’s exhausting to get a way of the political panorama on this neighborhood. There’s not a single marketing campaign yard signal anyplace in sight, and the residents who reply the doorways appear, for probably the most half, disengaged from the method.

In sure respects, the 12th State Senate district represents Floor Zero in California legislative politics. A cadre of state senators—together with Nancy Skinner (Berkeley), Steve Glazer (Orinda), Henry Stern (Los Angeles), Bob Wieckowski (Fremont) and Senate President professional tempore Toni Atkins (San Diego)—joined Monning on a three-day bus tour to rustle up votes for focused Democratic Celebration candidates. Their objective: to safe so-called “supermajorities” in each homes of the California Legislature.

The work within the trenches paid off for Monning and his Democratic Senate colleagues. Caballero—a well-liked former mayor of Salinas—eked out a slender win within the 12th Senate District, as did Melissa Hurtado within the bordering 14th, giving Dems a supermajority within the Senate, 29 to 11, reflecting the blue tidal wave that quietly however certainly swept the nation on Election Day final month.

For these of us in Santa Cruz and the Bay Space, it’s straightforward to overlook how shut these brilliant pink pockets of Trumpism are to us. The precinct through which Monning is strolling is little greater than two hours away.


Because the solar climbs over the San Joaquin Valley, Monning beats on into the neighborhood. He’s heat and real with everybody he encounters. It appears there is perhaps a greater method for somebody at his station in life to spend a golden weekend. I can’t assist however ask him why he does it.

“I have a defective gene,” he jokes with a wry smile. A couple of steps later, he clarifies, as if to ensure his humor isn’t misinterpreted: “You know, I’ve been walking precincts my entire adult life, all the way back to my days with the farm workers’ movement [in the 1970s]. You meet people, connect with people, you take them out of their political isolation. It’s a real and practical way to stem the tide of all the corporate money that’s being pumped into these races. I tell people, ‘Don’t be demoralized. Vote, get engaged.’”

Ever since he was elected to symbolize the Central Coast within the California legislature—first as a member of the Meeting in 2008, then as a State Senator starting in 2012—Monning has waged a gentle conflict in Sacramento on behalf of progressive causes: a soda tax or warning labels to help public well being, farm employee protections, clear water, sustainable seafood, the Finish of Life Choice Act, an financial evaluation for the shutdown of the Diablo Canyon nuclear energy plant, monetary protections for the victims of home violence, eliminating plastic refuse within the oceans.

In every of those battles, Monning has taken on big-money pursuits that he believes warp California’s democratic establishments. For him, California politics has a David-versus-Goliath dynamic, and he refuses to provide floor to insurance coverage corporations, the delicate drink business, the fuel and oil foyer, agribusiness, the trucking business, power giants, or polluters.

“One of the most admirable elements about Bill is his willingness to tackle large issues, even in the face of strong opposition,” says Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Pal. “That is missing too much in politics today, and we could use more people like him that are guided by what’s right rather than what’s expedient.”

Bill Monning door knocking

CAMPAIGN MODE Monning knocks on doorways within the Central Valley this fall in help of incoming District 12 State Sen. Anna Caballero.

The legendary California Meeting Speaker Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh as soon as famously proclaimed that “money is the mother’s milk of California politics.” Ever since its founding within the aftermath of the Gold Rush, California has been dominated by particular curiosity cash. The “Big Four” railroad magnates of the Central Pacific Railroad (Stanford, Hopkins, Crocker and Huntington) primarily owned the legislature in Sacramento for the latter half of the 19th century.

“It was true then, and it’s still true today,” Monning declares. “In fact, the lobby money today is on steroids.”

For instance, he factors to this yr’s battle in San Luis Obispo County to move Measure G, which might have prohibited fracking and additional oil exploration within the county. “Chevron alone spent $4 million-plus to defeat the measure,” Monning notes. The measure went down in defeat, 56 to 44 %.

Close to the top of Monning’s stroll, he meets up together with his colleague, Toni Atkins of San Diego. There’s a clear heat between them. She and I chat some time about her district, after which she explains why, as president of the State Senate, she has appointed Monning to prime management roles.

“Bill has a real calming effect on most of us,” she says. “He is very principled and trustworthy. He’s passionate about his beliefs, but he also has a practical approach to this work.”


Born in Culver Metropolis in 1951, William “Bill” Wheeler Monning grew up largely in Pasadena, the place he was a star athlete at Flintridge Prep, collaborating in soccer, basketball, baseball and swimming.

Monning acknowledges that he was sheltered from the poverty and social turbulence throughout these post-war years of financial progress and pressure in Southern California—particularly, the Watts Riots of 1965—however recollects an incident throughout his childhood that he says formed his mindset.

It was through the Christmas season that he noticed a beat-up station wagon pull right into a parking zone. The driving force, a Mexican immigrant with what seemed to be his complete household and all of their belongings in tow, rolled down his window and stated to Monning’s father, an engineer for the town of Los Angeles, that he didn’t have cash for fuel. With out drawing consideration to himself, Monning’s dad walked over to the station wagon and handed the driving force a $20 invoice.  

“Not everybody has the same good fortune that we do,” Monning recollects his father telling him. These phrases left a profound, lifelong impression on his son. “My family had a deep commitment to public service—you give to others—and watching how my father handled that situation had a huge impact on my life.”

After graduating from Flintridge in 1969 (his father had died from a coronary heart assault when Monning was nonetheless in highschool), Monning headed off to Berkeley, the place the free speech motion was on hearth and radical activism outlined the occasions.

Considered one of his mentors at Berkeley was Tom Hayden—the famed writer of the Port Huron Assertion (the 1962 manifesto of College students for a Democratic Society), a Freedom Rider within the Deep South, a member of the Chicago Seven, and later, like Monning, elected to each homes of the California Legislature. Through the early ’70s, Hayden lived in Berkeley as a member of the so-called Pink Household, a model of political activism to which Monning discovered himself attracted.

By the point he graduated from Berkeley, Monning had been absolutely radicalized. He entered regulation faculty on the College of San Francisco and got here out dedicated to engaged on behalf of migrant staff. His first job as an lawyer was for the United Farm Staff union; he later labored for the Migrant Farm Employee Undertaking at California Rural Authorized Help, the Salvadoran Medical Aid Fund, and Worldwide Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear Warfare. It was a authorized profession steeped in progressive causes, engaged on behalf of the disenfranchised and dispossessed.

Whereas working for the UFW in 1976, Monning met a younger graduate from Radcliffe, Dana Kent, who had labored for the union as an organizer in Delano, then as a clinic employee and a paralegal. They married quickly thereafter and raised two daughters.

Kent turned a bilingual instructor’s aide in San Juan Bautista, then went into the medical career as a nurse earlier than enrolling at Harvard Medical Faculty, the place she graduated on the prime of her class in 1991. She presently serves as a training doctor and medical director for well being promotion and schooling on the Natividad Basis, the place she focuses on diabetes among the many underserved in Monterey County.

It’s straightforward to see why a great deal of Monning’s work in Sacramento has targeted on public well being. “Dana and I work as a team,” Monning says. “She’s played a critical role in my political career, but more importantly, my sense of activism.”


 It was in 1993 that Monning determined to leap with each ft into the political area. With the election of Bill Clinton to the presidency and the ascendance of Monterey congressmember Leon Panetta to Clinton’s cupboard (first as Director of the Workplace of Administration and Price range), Monning determined to hunt what had been Panetta’s congressional seat because the mid-1970s.

Monning’s determination to run irked various members of the regional Democratic social gathering institution who had already lined up behind Carmel-based Assemblymember Sam Farr. Monning bristles on the longstanding narrative (that also exists to this present day) that he ran towards Farr.

“Remember, this was an open seat,” Monning says. “Sam wasn’t an incumbent. This was a special election. I was running on a progressive agenda—campaign finance reform, single-payer health insurance and opposition to NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). We disagreed on the first two issues, but Sam said he was against NAFTA, too.”

Monning state assembly

POLITICS OF PERSISTENCE After unsuccessful bids for workplace within the 90s, Monning made his option to Sacramento when voters despatched him to the State Meeting in 2008.

Monning’s candidacy introduced collectively a big grassroots marketing campaign in Santa Cruz, which included a exceptional group of progressive elders who introduced a singular spirit and power to the first marketing campaign that included 25 candidates.

When the primary mud settled within the April 1993 main, Farr garnered 25 % of the vote, whereas Monning stunned many native pundits by coming in a robust second, with 18 %. In a runoff, Farr beat his Republican opponent, Bill McCampbell, 52 to 43 %.

The subsequent yr, Monning determined to tackle then-incumbent Bruce McPherson for the State Meeting. It was a historic race in California historical past. The Democratic Social gathering institution—most notably the late State Sen. Henry Mello of Watsonville—sabotaged Monning’s marketing campaign. Dan Walters, the longtime Sacramento columnist for McClatchy Information Service, revealed an exposé of how Mello, who Walters described as “an autocratic, old-style politician who … fancies himself the political boss of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties,” iced Monning as a result of he had crushed Mello’s longtime aide Cathy O’Boyle within the Democratic main for the Meeting.

Mello and Monning have been polar opposites. Mello had PAC cash operating by way of his veins; he had lengthy favored Salinas and Pajaro Valley agribusiness pursuits over Cesar Chavez and the UFW.

Mello refused to endorse Monning for Meeting, and Democratic kingpin Speaker of the Meeting Willie Brown waited till the final second to supply Monning some marketing campaign crumbs. It was too little, too late. McPherson (who has since left the Republican Get together) squeaked by within the race by simply 2,500 votes (51 to 49 %), and went on to a prolonged profession within the State Senate, served as Secretary of State, and now serves as a Santa Cruz County supervisor.

Monning had been outspent by $500,000 within the race, in a district that had been thought-about a Democratic lock. Whereas he was “frustrated” and “disappointed” by the result, he had not compromised his rules, refusing particular curiosity cash. He had fought the great battle—and had misplaced a legislative bid for the second time in two years.


Reduce to a decade-and-a-half later. By 2008, numerous water had flowed underneath many a political bridge on the Central Coast. When John Laird, the favored Democratic Assemblyman from Santa Cruz (now secretary of the California Assets Company), termed out within the 27th District, Monning—then educating regulation in Monterey—determined to make one other run for it.

“I had been a recovering politician for nearly 15 years,” he muses. “I felt like there was some unfinished business. I didn’t want to have any regrets.”

Monning suited up for an additional electoral battle. He ran on the identical progressive platform that had outlined his earlier campaigns—well being care, marketing campaign finance reform, staff’ rights, environmental safety. This time round, he gained the race with a whopping 67 % of the vote, defeating Republican Robert Murray and Libertarian Mark Hinkle.

“I have great gratitude and respect for all those who have worked in my campaign teams over the years,” Monning says. “It’s all about love and respect for each other, and the shared vision of what we want for each other and our communities.”

Monning ran for and gained re-election in 2010, after which for State Senate in 2012 and 2016. In every occasion, he gained with roughly two-thirds of the vote. Monning hadn’t modified since his losses within the 1990s, when many Democrats refused to again his candidacies. Fairly, the State Democratic Get together had come round on embracing Monning’s principled, non-transactional model of politics.

In 2014, Monning’s longtime ally, State Senate president professional tempore Kevin de León (who misplaced his U.S. Senate bid final month to Dianne Feinstein) chosen Monning to function Senate Majority Chief, elevating him to probably the most outstanding roles in California authorities.

There isn’t a small quantity of irony that Monning has assumed the place—and, certainly, the precise workplace—that his antagonist Henry Mello had as soon as held. I used to be a bit stunned to find that Monning, who’s a educated mediator, by no means patched issues up with Mello, who died in 2004.

“I called him once to schedule a meeting,” Monning recollects. “I went over to his office in the hope of making peace, to unify. It was a vicious, insulting exchange.” Monning says he walked out of that assembly and by no means seemed again.

When Monning ran for workplace the second time round, there was skepticism amongst native Democrats about how properly Monning may fare within the dog-eat-dog environment of Sacramento. Monning’s late pal and mentor Hayden—who served almost 20 years within the Legislature—died in 2016 on the age of 76. I as soon as requested Hayden how he thought Monning would deal with the state capital; he was just a little skeptical. “I’m not sure he’s going to like it there,” Hayden advised me. He thought there could be an excessive amount of horse-trading, an excessive amount of cash affect for his good friend’s excessive moral requirements.


Shortly after the November election, I advised Monning about Hayden’s prognostication. He says he’s not stunned. “Yeah, it’s been a mixed bag,” he says. “But when I look at what you can do when you grit your teeth, the trade-off is being able to accomplish important policy. I’ve been able to maintain my integrity and moral compass and not get sucked into the sludge.”

Monning recalled his first journey to Sacramento, when he was working for the United Farm Staff. “It’s alluring, the fancy architecture and the glitter and gold, and all the power,” Monning remembers, “but I was also turned off by it, and couldn’t wait to get away. I developed a love-hate relationship with it then, and I still have it. I don’t think you’re really grounded unless you have a love-hate relationship with the place. I still feel the tug both ways.”

There was hypothesis that Monning would run once more for Congress when Sam Farr retired in 2016—the identical seat he’d run for and misplaced 22 years earlier—and Monning made information when he introduced that he was as an alternative going to stay together with his management position in Sacramento.

Monning, now 67, shall be termed out of workplace in 2020. Together with his two daughters now grown (and with three grandchildren), he says he’s wanting ahead to his ultimate two years within the Senate, the place he stays Majority Chief.  

“I’m hooked on it,” he says. “I thrive on engaging the art of the possible. Yes, there are disappointments and much that disappoints. But it all makes the victories that much sweeter when you’ve navigated through all the muck.”

As soon as the legislative session opens in 2019, he says he’s going to work on getting his Protected and Reasonably priced Consuming Water Fund laws handed. He has been in negotiations with numerous agribusiness organizations and environmental justice teams (totaling 90 in all) and says he’ll refocus his efforts with a handful of legislators who have been afraid of voting for a tax invoice prematurely of the 2018 election.

And he’ll proceed to wage battle towards the gentle drink business. After three unsuccessful makes an attempt at levying taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks (twice within the Meeting and as soon as within the Senate), Monning is hoping that the supermajorities garnered in each homes final month will allow him to push via his proposed tax within the subsequent legislative session.

Monning views the Finish of Life Choice Act handed in 2015, which permits an grownup recognized with a terminal illness to request aid-in-dying medicine from their attending doctor, as considered one of his biggest legislative achievements. The method was particularly shifting for him. Many individuals confronting terminal sicknesses on the time got here to Sacramento to testify and foyer on behalf of the trailblazing laws.

“They knew that they weren’t going to be able to benefit from it,” Monning says. “And yet they still came, facing their terminal conditions, making sure that those who followed them would have options that they didn’t have. These are life and death issues. Sure, you see people at times only acting in their own self-interest, but you also see the best in people, too—people who are strong, who are there for others. Their courage was very moving. When it’s all said and done, those will be the lasting memories.”