Mike McGuire is everywhere. Can he harness his energy as California’s new Senate leader?

(Josh Edelson/For The Times)

Mike McGuire is everywhere. Can he harness his energy as California’s new Senate leader?

California Politics

Mackenzie Mays

February 5, 2024

On a foggy morning in January, Senator Mike McGuire was in his hometown of Northern California’s wine country, doing an elementary school dance called the wheelbarrow and explaining insurance policies to children eager to talk about their 4- H-pigs wanted to talk.

The Sonoma County Democrat then sped off, past rolling green hills and dewy vineyards, to have coffee with firefighters who are counting on him to help a region that has been repeatedly devastated by wildfires and often feels overlooked by state leaders.

At the Healdsburg Fire Department, an employee had trouble getting McGuire out the door in time so he could make it three hours north in Eureka for a Chamber of Commerce event. There he would participate in a hobby that perfectly suited his sense of urgency and tendency to cram as much as possible into the time he has: auctions.

Mike Mcguire does a dance called the wheelbarrow

“Mike’s the one




unfamiliar with California politics. He moves and walks through the neighborhood. It is a hallmark of his approach,” said David McCuan, professor of political science at Sonoma State


that Mc taught


uire there more than 20 years ago. “He believes that hard work and perseverance can offset any challenges.”

Now McGuire, who was sworn in Monday as the new leader of the California Senate, will have to harness that energy as he takes on his biggest challenge yet to guide the upper house of the Legislature as the state grapples with an estimated budget deficit $38 billion. . The Senate leader plays a powerful role in state budget negotiations with the governor and Speaker of the General Assembly, making it one of the most influential positions in state government.

During a swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol on Monday, McGuire pledged to “stick” and fix the budget in the same way that financially struggling Californians are forced to “live within their means” and make sacrifices in their personal spending. “We know there are difficult decisions ahead,” McGuire said in an emotional Senate speech that at times brought him to tears. “We are going to protect our progress.” McGuire was sworn in while holding his wiggly two-year-old son and standing next to his wife, a school principal in Healdsburg. Monday’s event spotlighted the hospitality of the small town in rural McGuires County, with signs welcoming visitors to come in and stay a while. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Gov. Jerry Brown, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero, and former Senate leaders, including

John Burton

attended the ceremony. Many from McGuire’s district also attended, including his eighth-grade math teacher. Despite budget challenges on the horizon, McGuire painted a picture of a resilient California leading the nation on several policy areas, including on climate change and abortion access, even in bad financial times. “No matter what you watch on cable news, we are the economic engine of America,” he said Monday.

Time is of the essence. McGuire has until 2026 to make his mark in the Senate

president pro tem

; , then at that moment

he will be forced out of the legislature by term limits.

At the top are to

do list responds to the state’s far-reaching homelessness crisis.

He said he expects the Senate to prioritize the “successful implementation” of the CARE Court, governor of the provinces. Gavin Newsom’s mental health reform plan, which could force some people living on the streets to receive treatment.

“It doesn’t matter if you live in the Crescent City or downtown LA, you want the homelessness crisis solved. It’s unacceptable, and the state and our communities must do better,” McGuire said.

But speaking to reporters at the Capitol after Monday’s ceremony, McGuire declined to provide details on the plan or indicate what else might come out of the Senate this year, saying he still needs to get his fellow lawmaker Meet.

McGuire is often seen jogging through the halls of the Capitol to reach one of the various committees he sits on and wears headphones on the Senate floor so as not to miss a call.

task and “laser focus” on, among other things


fentanyl and



His fellow lawmakers from both political parties joked Monday about his staying power, saying they didn’t know he had a desk on the Senate floor because he never sits.

For six months, McGuire has been on the road speaking to voters outside his coastal district, which spans seven counties from the Bay Area to the Oregon border. In the month of December alone, he met with climate activists in Sacramento, public transit advocates in San Francisco, business owners in Fresno, wine experts in Sonoma County and homeless advocates in Humboldt County.

“If I have to eat another gas station hot dog, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he joked.

He is not eligible for re-election. It’s just what he does.

“He feeds off this. It’s not a game, it’s authentic,” said James Gore, a Democratic member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors who plans to run for McGuire’s seat when his term ends in 2026 .

His breakneck pace started decades ago with a series of record firsts. In 1998, he became the youngest person elected to the rural town of Healdsburg School Board at age 19.

where he grew up, after which he became the city’s youngest mayor. He subsequently served on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and served in the Senate in 2014.

McGuire starts working at a radio station in high school to help his family make ends meet. He was raised harshly by his mother and grandmother

nosy farmer that


McGuire credits his career.

‘She taught me to be the toughest

working person in the room,” he said of his grandmother. “She told me there are smarter people in this world than you and that you have to work together.”

His unanimous nomination by Democrats to lead the Senate came with the blessing of his predecessor


Senator Toni Atkins

(D-San Diego)

running for governor in 2026, and without the drama of the competitive leadership campaign that played out on the other side of the Capitol in the State Assembly.

But in some ways, McGuire’s appointment comes as a surprise. He represents a rural district in a powerful position long held by big-city senators. He is a heterosexual white man who is helping to lead a majority-Latino state amid calls for more diversity in Democratic politics.

“It speaks to his leadership,” said Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach),


Vice Chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus. “Regardless of identity politics, I really think he exceeds them with his politics. Above all, his collaborative style is appreciated.”

McGuire in his inaugural address on Monday referenced progressive ideals for greater diversity in political representation, as both the legislative houses and the governor’s office are currently headed by men. “Here in the Senate, we are looking more like the communities we proudly represent,” McGuire said, noting that there are more women and more people of color in state offices than ever before and pledging to work with minority organizations to address their issues promote. McGuire credited unions on Monday, saying that “in California we are standing up for workers’ rights.” But in

In a supermajority Democratic legislature where unions have a lot of influence, McGuire has not always voted with organized labor. In 2016, he did not support a bill expanding overtime pay for farmworkers because he was concerned about the impact on small farmers.

Republicans also describe McGuire as a fierce collaborator, negotiator and moderator without an off switch.

“He just works really hard and is always on the move. I would say if there was competition for the position, whoever it was wouldn’t have been able to keep up with him in the first place,” said Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones.

(R-Santee), a Republican from San Diego,

said, noting that he “strongly” disagrees with many of his policy positions.

Last year, McGuire passed bills to accelerate offshore wind development and support small wind energy

large-scale cannabis farmers. He supported controversial bills to decriminalize psychedelic drugs and give striking workers unemployment benefits, both of which failed to win Newsom’s approval.

McGuire, who warns he sounds “hokey” when he talks about loving his job, said, “I’m not into labels” when asked if he was considered a moderate.

on some issues

in the


California Legislature. “I’m all about action. My sole focus is on delivering results,” he said.

As for what happens when his term is over, McGuire has raised more than $800,000 for a campaign for state insurance commissioner in 2026.

But his supporters in his hometown of Healdsburg are certain his ambitions are bigger than that.

McGuire dodged a question about his plans after state


enate, saying


“It’s not what keeps me awake at night.”

For someone who seemingly fills every hour of his agenda, two years is ‘an eternity’.

Back at Alexander Valley School in Healdsburg, McGuire quickly taught 10- and 12-year-olds accustomed to wildfires in his auctioneer voice about “house hardening” and public risk insurance models. He demanded a countdown as he wrapped up his answers to the children’s questions.

“Time me 60 seconds,” he said. “I want to beat the recess bell.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Hot Topics

Related Articles