From the State Capitol, Back to Local Government
We asked Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo to reflect on the differences, similarities, rewards, and challenges of serving in state and local government.
After proudly serving in the California State Assembly for six years, the transition from the State Capitol to county government as a new Monterey County Supervisor has been a smooth one for me. While in Sacramento, I was proud to have authored 76 bills and 16 resolutions, including landmark laws to allow immigrants to obtain drivers licenses, to raise California’s minimum wage and to modernize our complex groundwater adjudication laws and procedures.
Although I previously served as mayor of my hometown of Watsonville with a population of more than 50,000 residents, serving in the legislature, representing four counties, nine cities and nearly half a million people was a tremendous increase in responsibility. Today, I’ve come back to my local government roots and I now represent just one county in one of the most beautiful parts of the state. After almost six months on the job, I must say that county government is very rewarding but just as challenging, if not more challenging than my previous job.
The way I see it, county government is much more of a direct democracy where we implement a wide range of programs and dollars that have a direct impact on the everyday lives of thousands of local residents. Whether overseeing services at our county hospital, building a new jail facility and juvenile hall, providing job training services, fixing county roads, deciding tough land use policies, expanding local parks for our youth or dealing with a growing homelessness crisis, there is wide range of policy to learn and master in county government that must be translated into positive actions and outcomes.
Unlike Sacramento where I spent four days a week, I am now home all the time and constantly running into residents who are impacted daily by the work we do. But as a life-long student of policy, law and government, I am enjoying the new lessons and civic engagement.
As a county supervisor, I must also master working with other layers of local government. My supervisorial district is nested completely within the city limits of Salinas. So, for any project that I want to accomplish in my district, it must be done collaboratively with city officials for permitting and planning purposes. On other boards that I serve on with local city governments, one must work collaboratively with them on regional goals. That is something my experience in Sacramento has really helped prepare me for.
So far, it has been a thrill serving as a new County Supervisor in the hometown of the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning author John Steinbeck. I drive two miles to work in Salinas instead of 172 miles to Sacramento. To accomplish goals, I have to get just two other votes as a supervisor instead of getting to 41 votes in the Assembly or 21 in the Senate. As the saying goes, “all politics is local” and county government is a good place to continue making a profound difference in the lives of the people you love and represent.
Luis A. Alejo serves as a Monterey County Supervisor for District 1. He was a State Assemblymember from 2010-2016 and served as the Chairman of the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee and of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, and Vice-Chair of the Assembly Local Government Committee.