Former Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin is running for the 28th Assembly District in the upcoming June 7 primary after receiving the nod from current representative Mark Stone, who is reportedly not seeking reelection.
Over the past few months, Pellerin has encouraged women to run for elected office through Women in Leadership for Diverse Representation’s community workshops.
That group’s goal aligned with Pellerin’s long-standing objective to get more women into positions of leadership throughout Santa Cruz County, and do something that has never been done before: have a woman from the county elected to the state legislature. Pellerin and other women-led groups had their eyes on preparing a candidate to run for the 28th Assembly District in 2024, when Assemblymember Stone would term out.
“We started talking to people about who was interested in running,” Pellerin says. “And the more we talked to people about ‘Who do you think [should run],’ the more people said, ‘How about you?’”
Pellerin, who retired from her position with the county in 2020, had planned to run for the seat then. But she says that a recent meeting with Stone, a Scotts Valley Democrat who was first voted into the legislature in 2012, accelerated that timeline.
“Stone came and talked to me, and he was very sweet and gracious, and said that he was not going to be running and he wanted me to be his representative,” Pellerin says.
Pellerin declined to say when the conversation with Stone happened.
Just before the March 11 deadline, Pellerin filed her intent to run for the new 28th Assembly District, which, in essence, replaces the current 29th District as a result of the recent decennial redistricting process. The new district still represents North Santa Cruz County, but no longer counts mid-county or the southern coastal region as part of its footprint. It now branches out to the east, covering Los Gatos, Morgan Hill and various communities around San Jose.
Pellerin says that she has already received the endorsement of State Senator John Laird and Assemblymember Robert Rivas—the representative for the Pajaro Valley in South County. She—and any other prospective candidate—has until March 16 to submit 40 signatures to officially get her name on the ballot. She says she is trying to collect signatures from “all throughout the district.”
“I have a lot more calls to make today,” she said on Saturday. “Just tracking people down and asking them that important question.”
As she said in an interview with this paper weeks before her retirement, Pellerin took a year off from public service before throwing her hat in the ring once again for an elected office. Her year away has been anything but a vacation. She joined the National Alliance on Mental Illness and has been active with women-serving organizations such as Girls Inc. and Women’s Educational Success at Cabrillo College. She has also spearheaded the creation of the Cabrillo College Local Government Fellows program, which aims to encourage students to get involved in local government by providing scholarships and paid internships and mentorships.
She has also worked with the California Democratic Party on its voter protection committee.
“Once an elections geek, always an elections geek—you just can’t stay away from elections stuff,” she says.
Stone did not respond to a request for comment.
The longtime representative started his career in politics on the Scotts Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees. He served two terms on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors before moving to the Assembly.
In a brief emailed statement to his supporters sent Saturday afternoon, Stone said that he endorsed Pellerin.
“In a time when Democracy is literally under attack, I cannot think of another person more qualified or more prepared to fight for our Democracy and protect voting rights,” the statement read. “I can’t wait to see what she will accomplish in the State Assembly … It has been my honor to serve in the State Assembly, and I cannot thank you enough for all the support I have received over the years.”
Pellerin is recognized as a leading voice in California elections. She previously served as president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials from 2010 to 2012, and she served on California’s Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee. She has also been a member of the Future of California Elections since 2011.
If elected, Pellerin says that she would focus on issues surrounding affordable housing, health care access, climate change and mental health services.
“I think that democracy works best when elected officials enlist the ideas of the constituency so I’m going to be doing exactly that,” she says. “I’m someone who has always built teams and get people to work together … I’m a helper, and I like impacting people’s lives in positive ways.”
In addition to elections and voter registration duties, the clerk’s office is also responsible for other services such as passports and marriage licenses.
After a brief career as a journalist and as a legislative staffer in Sacramento, Pellerin moved to Santa Cruz. From 1993 to 2004 she was elections manager under then-County Clerk Richard Bedal, and was eventually appointed to the permanent role after some of the duties of that office were split. She went on to win reelection four times, running unopposed each time.