Sebastopol's state senator, Mike McGuire, now holds the most powerful position in the state senate
McGuire was sworn in as president pro tem of the State Senate on Monday
By Alexei Koseff, CalMatters
This article is from our partner in Sacramento, CalMatters. It has been lightly edited by Sebastopol Times editor Laura Hagar Rush. A description of the pro tem’s duties and a transcript of McGuire’s acceptance speech follow the main article.
From the outside, Mike McGuire seems like exactly the type of person who would rise to the top of the California Senate.
McGuire, a Democrat, lives in Healdsburg but represents a sprawling district that stretches from Marin County to the Oregon border. He was student body president in high school, according to Sonoma Magazine, and his classmates voted him “most likely to become president” in the senior yearbook. After winning a seat on the local school board at just 19, McGuire then served on the Healdsburg City Council and Sonoma County Board of Supervisors before his election to the Senate, where he has already spent the past two years as majority leader.
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But at his swearing-in today as the next Senate president pro tem — a powerful role heading the upper chamber of the Legislature that gives him a direct hand in guiding budget and policy decisions for 39 million Californians — an emotional McGuire marveled that he had made it at all.
“In other places in this country, a kid like me would have been forgotten,” McGuire said, recounting a modest youth in Sonoma County where his divorced mother scraped to put food on the table, he helped out on his beloved grandmother’s farm and he struggled to finish school.
“But not here in California,” he said. “In California, we fight to lift up every person, no matter your background, your skin color, who you are, who you love or how you identify. Here in the Golden State, we believe that anyone can do great things.”
Whether they still can is another matter. McGuire — known around the Capitol for his boundless energy and positive attitude — must now turn that optimism that the California Dream remains achievable toward solutions for the major challenges facing the state.
Chief among them is a projected multibillion-dollar budget deficit, which is expected to consume much of lawmakers’ energy this session. There is also an enduring shortage of affordable housing and the seemingly intractable homelessness crisis that has pushed many residents to the limits of their patience, as well as destructive natural disasters aggravated by climate change.
McGuire’s district — District 2, which includes Sebastopol — has been slammed particularly hard by wildfires in recent years. He told reporters that stabilizing the convulsing home insurance market is a top priority, though he is not a fan of the regulatory push to raise rates as insurers, who argue that their losses have become too great, flee California.
“Raising rates on homeowners is not the silver bullet,” McGuire said, suggesting that lawmakers should focus on hardening homes and communities to withstand fires. “We’ve seen other states roll out the red carpet for insurance carriers, giving them higher rates, and those insurance carriers still left that market.”
Termed out of the Legislature in 2026, McGuire must rush to make his mark on the Senate. His tenure is unlikely to radically change the business of the Legislature; like his predecessor, he is a liberal Democrat who must wrangle an ideologically diverse supermajority Democratic caucus, and the budget deficit could inhibit many of their most ambitious proposals.
But the optics of McGuire’s ascension are notable: It’s the first time since 1866 that a lawmaker from the north coast leads the Senate, the Associated Press reported. Alongside his Assembly counterpart, Speaker Robert Rivas of Hollister, both legislative leaders now hail from more rural, agricultural areas of California — a shift in the epicenter of power. McGuire succeeds Toni Atkins of San Diego, while Rivas replaced Anthony Rendon of Los Angeles County last summer.
And while Californians continue to elect an increasingly diverse legislature — including record numbers of women, Latino and openly LGBTQ+ members this session — those representatives have chosen a straight, white man as Senate leader. That has not been the case for nearly a decade.
“Know that representation matters,” McGuire told reporters, “and I will be following through with my commitment and my promise” to work closely with those diverse lawmakers to address the issues they care about.
What does the California State Senate’s president pro tempore do?
From the State Capitol Museum website
The President pro Tempore is the central figure in the policy-making and politics of the State Senate, elected by a vote of all the Senators as the leader of the Upper House. They are responsible for its administration, policy agenda, and its relationships with the Assembly and the Executive Branch.
The President pro Tempore chairs the Senate Rules Committee, working with the four other committee members to confirm certain appointments made by the Governor. The committee is also responsible for assigning senators to various committees and appointing committee chairpersons. It then refers legislation to the standing or temporary committees for hearings. Senators are elected to serve on the Rules Committee by a vote of the full Senate membership.
The Rules Committee establishes standing Senate Committees at the beginning of each two-year legislative session. Since it is not possible to discuss each bill at length on the Senate floor, the Senate Committees are in charge of analyzing proposed legislation before it is sent to the Senate floor for debate among all members.
Mike McGuire’s speech on the occasion of his swearing in
Good afternoon. We are grateful you're here. Please be seated. I'm so honored. I will try to get through this without getting emotional. So first and foremost, we are so incredibly grateful that each of you are here and safe and sound in the state capitol. After these torrential rainstorms and the hellacious storm that has hit our state, it means the world to us. It means the world to this body.
And I think that we can all agree that this storm is the top of mind for each and every one of us. You know hundreds of thousands of Californians woke up without power this morning, knocked out due to hurricane force winds. Southern California waterways are over their banks. Now dangerous mudslide conditions have taken hold, and a 100-year rainfall record was broken in the great city of Los Angeles. But thanks to the leadership of Governor Newsom and the amazing work of the State Office of Emergency Services, a few thousand emergency personnel have been mobilized and the state is actively engaged and embedded in the response and recovery operations that are working collaboratively to meet the needs of impacted communities…We hold those communities who are impacted by this ferocious storm close in our hearts this afternoon.
The Golden State has had its share of massive disasters…These disasters have taken us over the last decade, and we need to acknowledge and thank all of those who are once again answering the call, responding to this emergency. I'd like to take a moment to recognize and ask us to give a round of applause to the first responders. Utility and public works crews and Caltrans are working 24/7 to respond to those in need. Can we please say thank you? [Applause] I know one thing is true about this day. We are never better than right now. We are never better than when we are helping our neighbors in need. And this is truly the California way.
To everyone who traveled from far and wide, especially those from the beautiful North Coast, thank you for your friendship and thank you for your tireless support.
I'd like to be able to start out with this: I have never seen the Senate chambers so full of energy, dedication to doing good and a relentless pursuit to tackle the tough challenges that face this great state than I have today. There has never been a greater passion—I hope you'll agree with me—never been a greater passion to keep the California dream alive. And here's why: this Senate—this august body—is more representative of the Golden State than any other time in our history. The chamber has a record number of women serving—let's give them a round of applause. [Applause] There are more members of color in the California State Senate than any other time in our history. There are more LGBTQ members in the history of the Senate serving right now. And here in the Senate, we look more like the communities we proudly represent. And we stand strong for the values…that separate California from the rest of the pack. California is proudly the most diverse state in the nation.
No matter what you watch on cable news, we are America's economic engine. [Applause] We prove to the world…every day that we can lead on combating the climate crisis, and we can be home to the most innovative economy in the United States of America.
And in California, we go to the mat for the rights of our workers. We enact the strongest equal pay laws in the United States of America. Here in California, we take on income inequality head on. We raise the wages of the lowest paid workers, and we ensure that every worker, every worker, has the right to sick time, and they have a right to maternity leave. And let's be crystal clear: who did this? Unions did this in the state of California. Let's not mix messages. Unions built the middle class in America, and they built the middle class right here in the Golden State. And here in California—I’m a fourth generation—it's all about all of us, always together, always forward.
And it takes a team to do this. So I think we need to give credit where credit is due. First and foremost, I want to look to my good friend, Madam Pro Tem Tony Atkins. You are one of the most effective and thoughtful leaders of our time. You are a trailblazer to so many in this state; you are a role model to millions. And I am so grateful to call you a dear friend and a mentor. Ladies and gentlemen, I want to hear you loud and proud. We need to give it up for Tony Atkins and her amazing work here in the California State Senate. [Applause] She's truly one of a kind.
I think we also need to say thank you to the state senators. The senators in this chamber, they're incredibly talented. They are people driven and they are passionate and they genuinely want to deliver for the communities that they proudly represent. And I say this not just for the Democratic side of the aisle, but the Republican side of the aisle as well. Here in the State Senate, we put the people of California first.
I also would like to acknowledge Governor Gavin Newsom. Governor Newsom, for your work with this storm and so many other disasters, we are grateful. The gentleman behind me has devoted his life to making the lives of millions of Californians better. He has overseen this state through some of the toughest times in modern history. We owe him a debt of gratitude. We are grateful for your work. Let's give it up for our governor, Governor Gavin Newsom, ladies and gentlemen. [Applause]
We are also incredibly grateful that Governor Brown is here today, and I want to say thank you. Thank you for being here. And I also want to say how grateful we are for your remarkable leadership, not just as governor, but for the past 50 years. You have made California stronger. We are incredibly disappointed that you didn't bring the dogs here today, but ladies and gentlemen, can you please give a round of applause to Jerry Brown. [Applause] We love you.
I want to say how much we appreciate our lieutenant governor Eleni Kounalakis, who is here today and to our previous Senate leaders, especially to those who are here, Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Mr. Don Perata and, of course, John Burton. Each of you have made a permanent imprint on the Senate in the state of California. And we are so grateful for your leadership. We are so happy that you are here today.
Mr. Speaker [Robert Rivas], I want to tell you, you have been an amazing partner during this transition. And I sincerely cannot say thank you enough. I look forward to working with you and all the Assembly members who are here today. We have an awesome responsibility, and I know that we are going to work together for all of California. He is truly one of the best. Thank you so much, Mr. Speaker, for your tenure. Thank you.
To the tribal leaders who are in attendance, thank you for your partnership, and we look forward to working with you day in and day out to make California stronger. I also want to say how grateful I am to the people who I get to work with each and every day, and I'm talking about the amazing staff team in our office. We've been through some of the most horrific wildfires in California history together, floods, and the pandemic, and I'm in awe of your persistence and your service each and every day. I also want to say thank you to the legislative staff in this building. For all the work that you do on behalf of California, we are truly grateful, and this state is stronger because of you.
And most of all, I want to say thank you to my family, especially the amazing women who are in my life. You know my grandma Martha was the rock of our family. She was a warm-hearted, hard-nosed rancher you didn't want to mess with, but she will always be my hero. But I gotta tell you she would be more excited that the Forty Niners are heading to the Super Bowl than me being up here today. So I think we need to do a Go Niners everybody. [Applause] And my mom, Sherry. I can't say thank you enough for your courage to make the hard decisions. The patience, the persistence and the grit. You did whatever it took to keep us moving forward. I'm grateful.
And I gotta say, I don't know what the hell I would do without Erica. Marrying you was the best thing that has ever happened to me. The best thing that has ever happened to our family—and we're gonna get blubbery—and we struggled getting pregnant and bringing Connor into this world, which has been the most amazing experience. I love you, and I love Corndog [his nickname for his son] so incredibly much, so thank you.
Look, I grew up with a story like millions of California kids. I was a kid from a broken home in rural California, raised by a divorced working mom who gave everything she had to put food on our table and a roof over our head. I grew up working on my grandma's farm, slinging dirt and making sure that we got the harvest in on time, and like many kids, I struggled in school. And it's because of dedicated teachers who truly believed in me that I actually graduated. And this includes my eighth grade math teacher who never stopped pushing me to do good. She is here today and you have changed my life. I want to say thank you so much to Pat Sabo.
I started working full time my junior year in high school to help pay the bills and never looked back. We didn't come from a family with money or a name, but I took my grandma's lessons, that still stick with me today: work hard, work together, and never take no for an answer.
I grew up in a big part of California with big trees, big skies, big waves and big dreams. But I'm gonna be honest; never in a million years did I dream that a kid like me could be in this position, a position that all of us are in in the California legislature, with the ability to help millions of this great state achieve their own California dream. And this is how we work as a Senate and as the legislature. This is how we work in the state of California: All of us, always together, always forward.
You know in other places in this country, a kid like me would have been forgotten, but not here in California. In California we fight to lift up every person, no matter your background, your skin color, who you are, who you love or how you identify. Here in the Golden State, we believe that anyone can do great things. We make sure that they have a roof over their head, a quality public education, good health care, regardless of your immigration status, and an economy that works for all, not just a few. Are you with me, California?
You look around this room today. We are incredibly honored to be joined by so many Californians who are helping others achieve their own California dream to be able to make this state stronger for all of us. The firefighters and police officers who are protecting our communities; the teachers who are educating the next generation of leaders and innovators; the union leaders who are fighting on behalf of working families day in and day out; the farm workers who are the heart of America's agricultural economy, right here in California. And the small business owners who are communities’ economic engines. These are real people making real differences every single day. And this is who we are as the Golden State.
California has given us all that chance, the chance to make sure progress, the chance to always move forward. That chance to do better. All of us, always together.
And I gotta say we're off to a solid start. There is no debate: California is America's economic engine. Our cities gained 3.2 million jobs since 2020. And now we have more jobs in this state than any other time in the history of California.
We are investing more in our kids and public schools than ever before. You know we've gone from dead last in the nation in per pupil spending back in 2015. Today we are in the top 20 in America, and it's about damn time. [Applause] And we're dragging down the cost of student debt. We're driving down the cost of student debt. Over half of all community college students now attend college tuition-free. And we're making major progress on homeownership and making more affordable housing available to all; and we did all of this. You did all of this, while passing America's most consequential climate legislation, which will reduce emissions by 85% by 2045.
Here in California, we believe that health care is a human right. And thanks to this legislature and to the governor, a staggering 92% of all Californians now have health care insurance. I want to point out Senator Durazo for her amazing work on this. We now have one of the highest insured rates in the nation, and it is because of the California legislature and the governor.
But look, we're a big state. And we know that we got big challenges. We got a lot of work ahead of us. And here in California, we are committed to the priorities—not of corporate boardrooms—we are committed to the priorities of kitchen tables and neighborhoods all throughout this great state. When budgets get tough at home, families have to buckle down and live within their means. Here at the state we know that we're gonna have to buckle up because we know that tough decisions lie ahead. And mark my word, thanks to the work of this legislature and the governor, we are going to protect our progress and we're going to build our foundation for the future as we deliver a balanced, on-time budget.
And let's not mince words. No matter what our budget looks like, California will always lead the world in combatting this climate crisis. And working with the speaker in the assembly, the governor and senators in this chamber, we're going to pass a policy package this year, focused on retail theft and the plan to help combat the Fentanyl crisis. Are you ready to go, California? [Applause]
We're gonna build more housing that's reachable for the vast majority, not the very privileged. And homelessness? We know that we got work to do. We know that this crisis is appalling and it's unacceptable. And voters will have the opportunity this March to create over 11,000 acute mental health beds and another 26,000 new mental health treatment slots in every corner of California. And we owe it to our communities. We owe it to our communities to have a smooth rail rollout of Care Court; that's gonna launch statewide this coming December. This life-changing program; it's going to help connect those who need help the most with essential housing, addiction and mental health services.
And on the economy, we know that manufacturing jobs are a pathway to the middle class. We know that we need to grow our manufacturing sector by fixing the electrical grid to get businesses hooked up sooner and we need to connect these businesses with highly skilled workers, creating good union jobs in the process.
And we're gonna wrap it up right here: California, we're never going to stop working every day for our kids in public schools, expanding childcare for working moms and families. Here in California, we're going to ensure that the Golden State always stands strong for women, not just women in California, but women across the United States of America. The Golden State is going to be a harbor. We're going to be a harbor in the storm for safe and unfettered access to reproductive healthcare and abortion.
And here in California, here in California, we are never going to back down from the NRA and this activist US Supreme Court. We will always protect our communities and kids from gun violence. Are you ready to go?
Elected positions are temporary, I know that. But what's permanent is the work that we do to improve the lives of Californians every day. And here's my core belief: the highest calling in life that we all have is to help others; to fight for those who can't fight for themselves; and to work together—no matter your party affiliation—because working together is the only way that we can make progress stick.
California has always been the light of hope for the United States of America, the beacon of progress. Along with the assembly and with the governor, we will continue to fight for all of us, always together, always forward. We're gonna meet the challenge ahead with grace, courage and determination, and we are never going to stop fighting. We are never going to stop fighting to make the promise of the Golden State possible for every Californian.
I want to say thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here. Thank you for this amazing opportunity. God bless the people of the Golden State, and let's get out there and get the job done for California. Let's do this. Thank you so much. [Applause]
You can watch the full swearing in ceremony here.
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