Gail Pellerin believes she has the experience and empathy our community needs in a leader. Her husband’s 2018 suicide pushed the longtime Santa Cruz County Clerk and local leader to become a mental health crusader. As county clerk, she found creative ways to serve people during the pandemic and worked extra hours to make sure voting and vital services happened. A voting-rights champion with experience in state and local government, she says she has the connections needed to make change happen. She’s also got a secret weapon: her labradoodle, Darwin.
Everyone has a story. Mine includes suicide and the loss of my husband, Tom, who took his life on Nov. 19, 2018.
Telling our children how their father died was the hardest thing I have ever done.
I had no idea how to move forward, so I clung to Tom’s favorite mantra: “Just take life 15 minutes at a time.”
I attended a workshop on suicide in the weeks after his death, and the speaker said, “put your grief to work.” That resonated with me, and I became an activist on suicide awareness and prevention. I channeled my grief and used it for community betterment. Sometimes just 15 minutes at a time.
My loss helped me grow more empathetic and aware of the depth and scope of mental illness. It also made me determined to be part of the change.
After 35 years in public service at both local and state levels, I am ready to make a bigger impact driven by my passion for connection with the community and my desire to shape policy around mental health, affordable housing, health care, education, climate change and public safety.
I am running for Assembly because I want to be a champion for a more sustainable, equitable and healthier community and improve government access, especially for those who are most in need of vital services. Here’s an example: The state’s “988” emergency mental health hotline will launch in July. Who will ensure that when people call, they get the services they need, whether it’s a referral to a therapist, a visit from a mobile mental health care unit, or a bed? The pandemic has highlighted how vital mental health is to our lives and to the lives of our children. We need to enact policies that work for the people who need them.
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I also want to renew the public’s faith in government and the democratic process. I spent 27 years as chief elections official and was elected four times to serve as Santa Cruz County Clerk. I got reelected because I got the job done and showed people I cared about them and their right to vote.
I commissioned a nationally recognized VoteMobile program to bring voting to fire-damaged neighborhoods, farmers markets and residential care facilities. I conducted high school voter registration drives and set up a vote center at UCSC. I also worked to reach voters with disabilities and those who spoke a language other than English, to ensure that everyone had access to voting.
I am a strong proponent of marriage equality and helped hundreds of couples marry. I implemented Passport Saturdays and office hours in Watsonville so people did not have to travel far for services. When the pandemic hit, I set up online appointments and stayed open to marry couples and help with COVID relief applications. I believe at one point I was the only county clerk’s office open in the state.
I did that because the community needed these essential services, and I wanted to help. That’s the kind of leader I am. Dedicated, tenacious, kind and talented at creative problem solving.
Prior to my job as county clerk, I worked for more than seven years in the California Assembly as a legislative aide and then as assistant director of the Speaker’s Office of Majority Services.
Those who know me understand I live the “whatever it takes” philosophy. As county clerk, I often drove ballots to people’s homes and went to hospitals to perform bedside marriage ceremonies when a partner was ill or dying.
In Sacramento, I will continue this philosophy and will be a coalition builder. I’m ready to take on the big challenges facing our district.
I will take my labradoodle, Darwin, with me to Sacramento. Coincidentally, Darwin was born on the one-year anniversary of Tom’s death. He has become a source of joy and support for me and my two adult children.
My loss will always be a part of me. As those who have lost loved ones know, the sadness never really leaves. It just settles.
For me, it has also fueled my determination to make a difference, to be your champion and fight for your rights and for our community. Help me make history as the first woman from Santa Cruz County to be elected to the California State Assembly.
Gail Pellerin served as Santa Cruz County Clerk from 2004 until her retirement in 2020. She was elected four times. Before that, she served as Santa Cruz County elections manager from 1993-2004 and as a government-relations consultant for Touché Manufacturing in San Jose. She married Tom Chaffin in 1992 and has two children, who are now 24 and 27. She is a graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and worked as a news reporter and as a State Assembly legislative staffer and assistant director of the Speaker’s Office of Majority Services. She is a member of the NAMI board of directors, Girls Inc., Women’s Educational Success, and Women in Leadership for Diverse Representation. She has lived in the Santa Cruz area for 30 years. Find her campaign site here.