District 5 Supervisor Bruce McPherson.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Civic Life

Bruce McPherson will not seek reelection to Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors in 2024

Friday’s announcement that Bruce McPherson — whose Fifth District includes the San Lorenzo Valley, much of Scotts Valley and part of Santa Cruz — won’t pursue another term on the county board of supervisors cracks open the 2024 field in an already competitive race for county power in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

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After decades of holding voting power in both state and local government, Fifth District Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson announced Friday that this current term, which expires in December 2024, will be his last.

The announcement cracks open the 2024 field in an already competitive race for county power in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

McPherson, who represents the Santa Cruz Mountains communities of Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley, plus a small slice of Santa Cruz, has served on the board of supervisors since 2012. His three-term stint in local elected office followed more than a decade in state politics, having served as a Republican assemblymember between 1993 and 1996 and a state senator from 1996 to 2004. He eventually ascended from the legislative chambers to the post of Secretary of State under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, from 2005 to 2007.

“I’m stepping back completely, I’m not going to run for another office or anything like that. This is retirement,” McPherson, 79, told Lookout. “You’re not going to do it forever. There are some things on my plate that I want to give more attention to now.”

Rumors of McPherson’s retirement have swirled since the gates for the 2024 election season opened up. As candidates began filing paperwork, McPherson avoided the question of his future, which had the effect of encumbering the plans for some candidates who said they would not run against McPherson but would consider campaigning in his stead. McPherson acknowledged this Friday, saying the timing of his announcement was to give other candidates enough time to begin making plans for the March 5 primary election.

Most prominent among those toying with a possible run but waiting on McPherson is Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart. Lookout’s attempts to reach Hart for this story were unsuccessful. McPherson says he hasn’t spoken to Hart “recently” and could not speak to his plans, saying only that he has the “utmost respect” for the sheriff. However, McPherson, despite his heavy influence in the region, says it is unlikely he will endorse anyone in the Fifth District race.

“I don’t know if I will be endorsing. It’s questionable if not doubtful,” McPherson said. “Most people who I’ve heard are considering running are supporters of mine. A lot of qualified people have expressed interest.”

A handful of contenders have already filed paperwork with the county on their intent to run: Monica Martinez, CEO of nonprofit Encompass Community Services, San Lorenzo Valley Water District director Jayme Ackemann and CZU fire survivor and local business owner Christopher Bradford.

State Sen. John Laird, whose own political career ran parallel to McPherson’s — even running against McPherson, from different sides of the aisle, for the state Assembly in 1993 — called it the “end of an era.”

“We haven’t always agreed, but he’s been a great leader,” Laird told Lookout. “I think Bruce really grew in public office. When you have to take responsibility for issues that you know need outcomes, it really grounds you, no matter where you come from politically.”

In retiring, McPherson, who was also the longtime editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel (the paper was owned by his family), will transition from decades of hard power into the soft power role of retired statesman. He will leave office during a time of great change for the county, including an increasingly diverse board of supervisors, unprecedented pressure from the state to grow and an increasing impact of Silicon Valley on the economy and housing market.

“We’re going through a growing process. I’m concerned about how much the state is getting involved and taking over local governing responsibility when it comes to housing and growth. I don’t see how we can accommodate what they’re asking of us,” McPherson said. “The county was going to change one way or another. Some of the changes I’m enthusiastic about. I love this county, and I feel I’m a very fortunate person to have represented it as a supervisor and state legislator.”