A Lookout View: Vote Gail Pellerin for Assembly District 28

Gail Pellerin during a Lookout candidate forum.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Lookout Endorsement: Gail Pellerin is a homegrown and well-loved politician who will best represent Santa Cruz County interests in Sacramento. She is a connector, a listener and someone with the skills and longtime political relationships we need to move forward on pressing issues like mental health, homelessness and affordable housing.

Editor’s note: A Lookout View is the opinion of our Community Voices opinion section, written by our editorial board, which consists of Community Voices Editor Jody K. Biehl and Lookout Founder Ken Doctor. Our goal is to connect the dots we see in the news and offer a bigger-picture view — all intended to see Santa Cruz County meet the challenges of the day and to shine a light on issues we believe must be on the public agenda. These views are distinct and independent from the work of our newsroom and its reporting.

The choice for state Assembly District 28 is an easy one. We want a leader who knows us, understands our community and will effectively advocate on our behalf.

In this race, that person is Gail Pellerin.

She is homegrown and well appreciated locally, thanks to her 16 years of devoted service (elected four times) as county clerk. But she is also widely connected to statewide politicians who matter to our region. That includes state Sen. John Laird, current Assemblymember Mark Stone (who is retiring) and Santa Cruz mayoral candidate Fred Keeley, who is among our region’s most seasoned Democratic strategists. He’s done the Assembly job before (1996-2002), including a stint as speaker pro tempore, and has been a county supervisor and city treasurer.

Pellerin not only knows these people, she shares warm, true, decadeslong friendships with them that hinge on mutual respect and a desire to better our community.

Pellerin is not only connected, she is also a connector. She is inclusive, a listener, the sort of person used to bringing people around a table and hammering out hard details softly. When UC Santa Cruz student Joe Thompson — her rival in the spring primary — dropped out of the race, she invited him to join her campaign, which he did.

She says she “wears her passion on her sleeve,” but she has also proved she is able to form real bonds with constituents and colleagues and knows how to work collaboratively and get things done.

That’s what our community and region need to do more often as we continue to confront growing homelessness, a mental health crisis, water issues and wider gaps in affordability. In our reporting, Lookout continues to see wide gaps in communication among state, county and city officials. We think Pellerin can step in from day one and initiate some of those needed conversations and alliances.

She showed this sort of malleability and finesse for finding smart, simple, people-oriented solutions to problems as county clerk amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She worked cooperatively with other officials, instituted free weddings in parks, set up a Watsonville office and drove to hospitals to personally officiate at weddings for dying people. We want to see that “can-do” spirit on a state level.

We are heartened by her outrage at the continued pesticide use near schools in Watsonville and hope she will work collaboratively and creatively to end this outdated and dangerous practice that is hurting so many of our kids and teachers.

Pellerin’s advocacy for mental health and women’s rights issues is also laudable and gains strength because of her openness to discuss her personal stories, including the loss of her husband to suicide and her own abortion. She brings needed lived experience and authenticity to issues that are among Santa Cruz’s most pressing.

We support her focus on California’s new 988 crisis line (signed into law in September) and the implementation of mobile 24/7 mobile health units. Having trained professionals, rather than police, on call and in place to help those in crisis makes sense, particularly for Santa Cruz. Such units would offer real help to those suffering, particularly the unhoused, and would ease the burden on our police and jails. It’s frankly astonishing we haven’t put this into place sooner.

Gail Pellerin and Assembly District 28 opponent Liz Lawler (left) shake hands during a Lookout candidate forum.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Pellerin’s expertise would be invaluable on the Select Committee on Mental and Behavioral Health (where Stone has also served). But her unique expertise in election law would make her a natural fit for the Elections Committee, a body she says she hopes to one day chair. Redistricting fairness — along with election integrity — are pivotal state and national issues. Why wouldn’t we want an elections expert in the room?

Pellerin is also a clear champion for women’s rights and speaks forthrightly about her support for California Proposition 1, which would enshrine abortion rights into state law. We support that stance.

Pellerin’s opponent, Liz Lawler, a Republican from Monte Sereno, opposes Proposition 1, insisting it is not necessary because state law is already clear. She is an “old-fashioned” Republican, who wants to “fix” the legislature by ending the Democratic supermajority. She supports LGBTQ+ rights, school vouchers and believes the state needs to take a tougher stance on crime, including lowering the amount a suspect can steal before facing a felony from $950 to $400.

She has offered an admirable and spirited campaign and we found her smart and engaging. She was graceful and self-deprecating (and embarrassed) when addressing the odd campaign graffiti with her name that has appeared throughout Santa Cruz County. She directly condemned it, apologized and asked the perpetrators to stop.

She has less political experience than Pellerin — she has served as a city council member and on a citizens action committee — but lacks the connections of Pellerin and the deep understanding of Santa Cruz’ particular problems, including homelessness.

Assembly 28 is a strange, newly drawn, sprawling district that stretches from Santa Cruz through the Santa Cruz Mountains to Boulder Creek and east to Los Gatos, southwest San Jose and Morgan Hill. It includes people who live along the coast, in the mountains and in cities and even on small farms. Only about 30% of the district lives in Santa Cruz County; the remainder in Santa Clara County. Pellerin is as well suited as anyone to negotiate such sprawling representation.

The person to lead this diverse district needs tenacity, connections and experience.

We recognize that Gail Pellerin, if elected, would be the first female representative from Santa Cruz to hold the Assembly seat. That’s worth supporting.

We endorse Pellerin. She has the skills, drive and talent — and the deep understanding of Santa Cruz issues we deserve and need in Sacramento.

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