Assembly candidate emphasizes importance of listening
Editor’s note: This is part of a series on candidates in advance of the June 7 primary. Democratic candidate Gregg Hart is running against Republican candidate Mike Stoker, who was previously interviewed by the News-Press, for the seat of the new 37th Assembly District.
Gregg Hart is a lover of stories, he always has been.
He can trace it back to as far as he can remember, growing up in Santa Barbara with a father who led the Lompoc and Santa Barbara libraries. His father would bring home books, sharing various authors and unique literary works.
As life and technology and even literature has changed, so has Mr. Hart’s intake of stories. Now, he not only reads but listens to podcasts and hears from the community as a member of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
And he’s hoping to turn a page in his own tome, too, as he campaigns for a new 37th District Assembly District covering Santa Barbara County and part of San Luis Obispo County.
“There are many different stories from many different people, and those unique voices all have something to contribute to the world,” the Democratic candidate said. “We all benefit from listening to others before we talk, and that guides me in so many ways in my life.”
Supervisor Hart discussed his bibliophile nature during an interview about his Assembly race. It’s that affinity for listening and promise to consider where others are coming from that he said would help him navigate the state legislature as politics are increasingly polarizing.
Mr. Hart’s first chapter in politics came when a little-known teacher from Oxnard ran against Santa Barbara County winery owner Brooks Firestone in a 1982 Assembly race. Mr. Hart was just a political science major in college, but he joined an “army of UCSB student volunteers” who went door-to-door for Jack O’Connell.
Mr. O’Connell won in a “tremendous upset.” (He would later serve as California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction.)
Mr. Hart was hooked. Two years later, he was hired to work in the assembly member’s district office.
He deftly traversed through local government, from the Planning Commission to City Council to the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, working on transportation and housing policy as its deputy executive director. Mr. Hart served on the California Coastal Commission as an appointee of the governor and was elected to the Board of Supervisors where he serves the second district.
“I’ve had a wide-ranging experience in local government in Santa Barbara County. I think that has prepared me to serve our community as a member of the state legislature,” Supervisor Hart, a Democrat, told the News-Press.
Mr. Hart said he didn’t plan to leave the board to run for Assembly but could not pass up the “very unique opportunity with a brand new district.”
There’s a trifecta of issues Mr. Hart would like to hone his focus on in the Assembly — and they all tie back to the economy: education, environment and infrastructure.
“There’s a great deal of uncertainty about inflation and how it is going to play out. The state is the 5th largest economy in the world. That is a major economic force that has a huge responsibility of delivering services for county governments and residents all throughout California,” Mr. Hart said. “The No. 1 focus is to do our best as a state to protect the economy and make that work for working families and residents.”
Mr. Hart said he will leave the debate on what to do — if anything — about the gas tax to those currently in the legislature, as that issue would be decided before he got to Sacramento, but he said the debate underscores the need for continued incentivizing of electric vehicles.
“It feels like a one-time solution to the impact people are feeling today,” Mr. Hart, a Tesla driver, said. “The longer-term strategy is to try to encourage and incentivize the transition away from gasoline-powered cars to electric cars.”
And then there is Roe v. Wade. Supervisor Hart called the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion overruling the 1973 landmark abortion case “very troubling.”
“What was particularly damaging to the national fabric of our country is the idea that we’re going to retreat from the single national standard that protects a woman’s right to reproductive freedom and dissolve into a system of individual states determining whether women have that basic fundamental right or not,” he said.
Mr. Hart said California could do more to both protect abortion access and aid women from other states that might not continue to provide those services.
For Mr. Hart, it’s one step at a time as he campaigns for Assembly — or rather, 20,000 steps each day.
The supervisor starts each day with 10,000 steps, carefully counted by his Fitbit, and adds about another 5,000 as the day goes on. He makes sure to take another walk after dinner, though, to hit that 20,000 marker — a counter to 7-Eleven cookie dough pints he’s been known to grab.