Last week, Fifth District Supervisor Bruce McPherson, just shy of his 80th birthday, announced he’s retiring from a career in public service.
“It’s been a great run,” McPherson says, calling Santa Cruz County the best in the entire world. “I just love this place.”
Now, he’s reminiscing about how he went from writing opinion columns, to the halls of the State legislature, to helping victims of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire navigate the rebuilding process.
When McPherson was growing up, he thought he might pursue medicine. But he was also drawn to the family business of journalism—his great grandfather Duncan purchased the Santa Cruz Sentinel in the 1800s. Ultimately, he followed in his family’s footsteps and chose to become a newspaperman.
Despite going into the print industry (including editing the Sentinel for nine years), it wasn’t too unexpected for him to transition into politics.
After all, his father ran for the State Assembly—only losing by a few hundred votes.
And his great uncle, Harold McPherson, served in the Assembly starting in 1915—though he died part-way through his term.
“I guess it’s kind of in the blood of the family,” McPherson says.
In Sacramento, he was elected as a Republican four times—twice to the Assembly and twice to the Senate. But he says he’s proud to have always maintained an independent streak. “I’ve never been a party line guy.”
In fact, he’s quite concerned with how the political and media landscapes have shifted. He says there’s too much partisanship and not enough real communication happening in politics in this climate.
“God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason,” he says. “Listen to what other people have to say before you talk about what’s on your mind, or what you think they should do.”
He’d like to see politics and media reorient around concerns held by the millions of Americans with moderate views.
“I’m really distressed at how things are covered these days,” he says. “You wouldn’t believe the same reporters were at the same press conference.”
McPherson tried retiring once already, back in December 2004 when he termed out of California’s Senate.
But after Secretary of State Kevin Shelley resigned amid questions about fundraising and his temperament, he got the call from Arnold Schwarzenegger to step up.
Following this gig, McPherson again opted against retirement, instead running for Fifth District seat in Santa Cruz County.
“I just decided I love this public service, the politics of it. And I love this county, I’ve lived here all my life—fourth generation—and maybe I can do something in this regard,” he says, adding, having switched to “no party preference,” he tried to adopt a balanced, reasonable approach. “As a matter of fact, it’s been equally satisfying to be here at the county level as it is at the state level.”
In state politics, he would attend a handful of committees and report back to caucus. However, on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, he’s one of five people who must handle almost every type of matter under the sun—from health services to parks to budgeting.
“You’ve got to address it and make those decisions,” he says
While running for office, McPherson told the Boulder Creek Insider that recovering from the economic downturn of the late aughts, harnessing volunteerism and helping implement the Boulder Creek Town Plan were primary concerns.
He wasn’t expecting the “nightmare” scenario of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire sweeping through his district in 2020, taking more than 900 homes with it. Not to mention a pandemic.
“I have never seen bigger challenges,” he says. “It gets very frustrating, because you don’t have the financial resources or the ability to fix it right away. You’re so dependent on State or federal grants.”
The county normally only handles a couple hundred residential building permits a year, “—at best,” he notes.
“The recovery has been a very difficult process, and we’ve tried to move it along as quickly as you can,” he said. “We had some special circumstances with geological challenges.”
McPherson says he wanted to step aside now in order to allow others to have enough time to mount a successful campaign.
“That’s just a fair thing to do,” he says. “I don’t feel like it, but I’m going to be 80 years old in January. I feel healthy, but I thought, it’s time to move on.”
He laughs at the suggestion that he’s the perfect age to run for president, given that Donald Trump and President Joe Biden—the top two contenders—are around the same age.
But he says this time he’s retiring for real.
He still plans on making progress on key priorities, like affordable housing, solving the water crisis for Big Basin residents and preparing for Highway 9 construction in Felton, before riding off into the sunset in November 2024.
McPherson credits his wife Mary for being a solid rock in his life.
“If you don’t have your family and friends behind you and understanding you while you do this, don’t do this. You’ve got to have this core support,” he said, while pondering his legacy, and decided against commenting on it. “It’s for other people to say whether I’ve been successful.”