Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham talks about how he answered the call to public service and what awaits him after Sacramento
When it came time for Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham to decide if he would run for re-election for a third time — if he would continue to make the nearly 600-mile round trip trek to Sacramento and back — he came to a realization.
It was time to go home.
At the end of this year, Assemblymember Cunningham will leave the office he’s held since 2016. A Republican, Mr. Cunningham represents District 35, a Central Coast area that includes San Luis Obispo County as well as northern Santa Barbara County.
Redistricting has split his district in two, taking away northern Santa Barbara County, a place the San Luis Obispo legislator called his “adoptive home” and where he has fond memories of playing ball growing up.
“I knew their issues. I knew all of the local electeds. I knew who to call to get stuff done and who to call to get input from,” Assemblymember Cunningham told the News-Press. “The new district is just different. It just isn’t the community I represented, a community that has been really good to me.”
But it was family, not a new Assembly district drawn with an increase of registered Democratic voters, at the forefront of his mind when he decided not to run for re-election.
Assemblymember Cunningham spoke openly about how his work — both in the Assembly and as an attorney — has at times stood in the way of his children’s events and his penchant for coaching. His wife, Shauna Cunningham, was often left to juggle the needs of their four children with her own law career while he served in Sacramento.
“It’s time for me to be home,” Mr. Cunningham said.
And Mr. Cunningham knows a thing or two about homecoming.
A Central Coast native, Mr. Cunningham attended Atascadero High School in Atascadero, about 40 miles north of Santa Maria. He is an alumnus of Point Loma Nazarene University where he studied physics and took internships with the San Diego mayor and the FBI in Washington, D.C.
While he waited to attend the UC Berkeley School of Law, Mr. Cunningham took a fellowship in the state Senate, where he worked for then-Minority Leader Jim Brulte and helped with some legislative work. His interest in public policy was cemented.
It was at Berkeley School of Law where Mr. Cunningham met his wife. The pair studied for the bar together, and he went to work at Jones Day in San Francisco after law school.
Mr. Cunningham’s legal career has a bit of everything: the East and West Coasts, federal clerkships and Big Law, the U.S. Department of Justice and the San Luis Obispo County’s District Attorney’s Office.
With a call for public service still heavy on his mind, Mr. Cunningham came back to the Central Coast after about four years in Washington, D.C., to work as a deputy district attorney for San Luis Obispo County. He prosecuted a wide array of crimes, from environmental issues to domestic violence and more.
He served on the Templeton Unified School District board and started his own firm, the Cunningham Law Group, in 2015 alongside his wife.
It was then that Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian was terming out of the legislature. Mr. Cunningham had begun to get involved in the political and campaign world, and he went to nearly every elected mayor and supervisor in the area (at least those on the Republican side of the aisle, he said), and asked if they would run for the seat.
The excuses ran the gamut from not wanting to travel to Sacramento to feeling too old to run for Assembly. But one consistent refrain as Mr. Cunningham made his rounds: “You should do it, and I will support you.”
With the backing and mentorship of Assemblymember Achadjian, Mr. Cunningham decided to run for office. He had experiences with public safety through his work as a prosecutor, small business issues with the opening of his new firm and education through his time on the school board. And he believed he could be instrumental in fixing issues in those areas for his community.
As Assemblymember Cunningham begins to leave office, there are multiple legacies he leaves in his Sacramento office.
He’s emerged as an ardent defender of children’s privacy against big technology and social media companies.
Lawmaker has plans for business, law, coaching after leaving office
Earlier this year, he garnered national media attention for his first-of-its-kind legislation to allow families to sue large social media companies for knowingly allowing a platform to be addictive and cause harm. It unanimously cleared the Judiciary Committee earlier this month.
He also championed legislation along with former state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, to mitigate the economic impact of the closure of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. It also ensured the nuclear power plant would be adequately staffed before it was set to close in 2025.
Mr. Cunningham is particularly proud of the funding he was able to help secure to fix State Route 46 where it intersects with State Route 41. The “Y” interchange has been nicknamed “Blood Alley” given the number of fatal car accidents that have occurred at the intersection. Mr. Cunningham said his family would go out of its way to avoid the area, and he knows people who have lost loved ones there.
The interchange is where “Rebel Without A Cause” star James Dean was killed in a car crash in 1955.
Mr. Cunningham said workers are expected to break ground on the project widening the road next year.
Additionally, Mr. Cunningham has used his legal prowess to help with legislation to curb the growing human trafficking problem in California and advocate for stronger background checks for Uber drivers after a man was convicted of assaulting and raping female passengers.
He’s also worked on ensuring water bond money for his district and promoting offshore wind power.
“Way more of my time than I expected actually ended up revolving around getting infrastructure upgraded in my district and the Central Coast,” Assemblymember Cunningham said.
So what’s next for the 44-year-old?
He’s got his eyes set on another business venture, and he plans to practice law and coach more as well as attend his children’s events. And he’s planning on finishing out the year strong, he said.
But as for the political world, he said: “I’m not ruling out getting back into elected politics at some point in time.”