HBJ’s High-Impact Legislative Session

Behind the Scenes with the State Senator

Hannah-Beth Jackson

Paul Wellman (file)

Hannah-Beth Jackson

Pumped from Pilates class, Hannah-Beth Jackson showed up for a coffee date on Coast Village Road sporting a tan shirt that read “Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History.”

It was an apt fashion choice for Santa Barbara’s state senator, who just completed one of the more impactful legislative sessions in recent memory, not only quantitatively — she won approval from both houses for a flurry of 18 bills — but also qualitatively, as she authored measures on some high-profile issues with statewide and national impact, from affirmative action for women executives to wildfire safety strategies.

For Jackson, in the final two years of her last Senate term, it represented not only a personal triumph but also a political achievement long in the making. She finally has emerged as a political star in Sacramento, nearly two decades after capitol power brokers, displeased with her brash and unapologetically progressive style, effectively squeezed her out of a Senate seat in a gerrymandering gambit.

“I had a really good year,” she said, sipping an English breakfast latte at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. “I’m really getting good at it, in understanding what’s possible and finding the sweet spot where we can get legislation passed.”

As a practical matter, several of Jackson’s most significant bills still stand one step away from enactment, as Governor Jerry Brown characteristically digs deep into the details of hundreds of measures on his desk in deciding whether to sign or veto them.

Nonetheless, her 2018 list of accomplishments to date is impressive in its public policy scope and sweep. A look at three far-reaching measures:

  • Women and the C-Suite. Brown is considering a first-in-the-nation Jackson bill to require that publicly traded California corporations have at least one woman director on their boards by 2019; in 2021, the mandate would expand. The Chamber of Commerce opposed it as a “job killer,” and, if signed into law, the measure would face almost certain legal challenge, although Jackson said that “it’s not a quota” and believes it constitutional: “Part of the purpose is to get the discussion going,” she said, which already has happened at Forbes, CNBC, and the Wall Street Journal, among other news organizations. “Our life experience as women needs to come to the table.”
  • Outer Continental Shelf. Brown on Saturday signed an HBJ bill aimed at blocking the Trump administration’s announced intention to resume and expand oil leasing and exploration off California’s coast. States control coastal waters from the shore to three miles out into the ocean, so her legislation orders the State Lands Commission not to grant leases or permits for new pipelines, tankers, or other oil transportation infrastructure within that limit. “We create a barrier along our own infrastructure,” she said.
  • Media literacy. Amid the global plague of “fake news,” cyberbullying, and Russian Facebook bots, Jackson passed a measure directing California’s Department of Education to develop a curriculum for “media literacy” as a first step in teaching the subject in public schools. That bill also is on the governor’s desk: “Jerry never signals what he’s going to do,” she said.

Walk down memory lane. Jackson’s legislative career began with election to the Assembly in 1998. She served six years before being termed out — and then effectively was squeezed from moving up to the Senate, when she ran afoul of then Senate president John Burton, who oversaw an aughts-era reapportionment that favored then Republican incumbent Tom McClintock.

In 2008, she ran and lost a squeaker to McClintock aide Tony Strickland in the gerrymandered district, but beat him in a 2012 rematch after the new redistricting following the 2010 census. She won easy reelection two years ago.

As speculation about her successor begins — Assemblymember Monique Limón, Supervisor Das Williams, and outgoing Ventura city councilmember Erik Nasarenko are now the most mentioned names — Jackson vowed that she will stay focused for the next two years, working from the left on homelessness and issues of importance to California’s aging population.

“I’m staying on the path I’ve been on,” she said.