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Election 2020: Who will succeed Bill Monning in CA Senate?

An environmentalist with nearly 20 years of public service experience, John Laird is vying for termed-out Bill Monning’s state Senate seat this election. Running against him is Republican Vicki Nohrden, a former realtor and pastor who says she’s fighting for small businesses and families.

John Laird got his start on the Santa Cruz city council in 1981, and elected mayor in 1983, becoming one of the first openly gay mayors in the United States.

Laird was elected as a state Assembly member in 2002 representing a portion of San Jose and served two terms. It was during this time that he and Assembly member Tim Leslie authored the Sierra Nevada Conservancy Act. The bill established the eponymous agency, which is meant to provide environmental, economic and social support for the Sierra Nevada region.

He was also one of 54 coauthors on Assembly Bill 32, or the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The bill put greenhouse gas standards in place for the air resources board to adhere to.

Laird is endorsed by the incumbent Democrat Bill Monning, who is serving his last eligible term in office.

“It will be up to the voters to decide who takes the seat,” Monning said. “If it is John, we’ve established a good rapport, and history of working together, so I think that would benefit the constituents of the 17th Senate district.”

Laird previously ran for State Senate and lost in the 15th district. He was then appointed Secretary for Natural Resources under Governor Jerry Brown. As secretary, Laird worked on the California Water Action Plan that established priorities for sustainably managing California’s water.

The Democratic candidate also advocated for the controversial California WaterFixthat would have updated the state’s water system by drilling tunnels into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and diverting water south. Governor Newsom backed away from the plan last year.

Laird’s opponent, Republican Vicki Nohrden, is a relative political newcomer. She ran for state assembly in 2018 in the 29th district, representing parts of Monterey, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties. She was defeated by incumbent Democrat Mark Stone.

Nohrden is endorsed by State Senate minority leader Shannon Grove. Grove said she’s not at all concerned by the political experience gap between the candidates, and that Nohrden understands what her constituents need.

“Vicki’s qualified because she’s not gonna vote for gas tax increases,” Grove said. “Vicki’s qualified because she’s not gonna vote for property tax increase—she realizes how expensive it is to live in this state. Vicki’s qualified because she’ll do everything she can to repeal AB5, which stops independent contractors and freelancers.”

Nohrden said she’s running for the small businesses and families in the district that are overtaxed and over-regulated. Nohrden notably opposes Proposition 15, which would increase taxes on high-earning factories, stores and industrial real estate.

Nohrden also supports a repeal of the controversial Assembly Bill 5, which created new definitions for who could be considered an independent contractor. The bill would have required businesses like Lyft and Uber to treat their contractors like employees — providing minimum wage and benefits.

The candidate previously served as court appointed special advocate for children. These are community volunteers who observe and make recommendations on behalf of abused or neglected children.

In the primary election in March, Laird received 44.4 percent of the vote, while Nohrden received 31.5 percent.

Laird has raised over $1 million in contributions from over 1,200 donors according to CAL-ACCESS data, and Nohrden has raised just over $127,000 dollars from 339 contributors.

Sean Flannelly is a journalist and student at University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He previously reported for KPFA Radio in Berkeley, California, and served as his student newspaper's sole podcast editor. Outside of the newsroom, he can be found hiking, climbing and camping his way around California.
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