(Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been condensed and paraphrased for clarity and brevity.)
Bill Dodd, who was a member of the Napa County Board of Supervisor for 14 years, was elected to the Assembly in his first run for the office in November of 2014. He is a Democrat having switched party affiliation in 2013.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Napa. We had a small rural ranch where we grew walnuts and wine grapes. It was just enough land to give me an appreciation of agriculture, albeit on a small scale. My mom ran the ranch, which included the crops, as well as a cheese operation and some chickens. She always said we made just enough to pay the property taxes. My dad was in the water filtration business.
I went to Chico State and I can say I was one of the few that got out in four years. Back then (the 1970s) that was saying something. I have to say that it was not my own discipline but my dad’s. He told me I had to get out in four years.
As a teenager and into your early 20s, what did you expect you would grow up to be?
I always wanted to go into the family business and work with my dad. When I graduated from college I did go to work for him and we were fortunate to be able to grow our business both through acquisition and organically. We became a good sized Culligan franchisee with our business spanning six counties.
My father was very involved in both the state and national trade associations (Pacific Water Quality Association and the National Water Quality Association) and I followed suit serving as president of both. I am a big believer of trade association involvement. It is through that involvement that we were in the position to grow our company and make the acquisitions that we did.
How did you get involved in the political arena?
I had bought the business from my dad earlier and in 2000 I sold it. I had always been involved in civic activities, and at that point we had a real schism in local politics between agriculture and the environmentalists. I thought I could bridge that gap and help bring the community together on a number of very critical issues, so I ran for the Board of Supervisors.
In Napa, our form of agriculture—viticulture—is very important to the local economy. In addition, we have a rural lifestyle that we try to maintain.
I understand both agriculture and the environmental side. I do believe I was able to bridge that gap and get a lot done. As a board, the supervisors agreed on almost every issue. We were able to get a lot done for our community, especially for the less fortunate among us.
As a member of the board of supervisors, you were a Republican for most of your political career. You changed your registration in 2013 to Democrat. Explain that change and did it have anything to do with your projected run for the Assembly?
It had nothing to do with that at all. I was raised a Republican and became a Republican but I was never overly political. Philosophically, I am a fiscal conservative but I agree with the Democratic viewpoint on most social issues. I am also very pragmatic. When I was on the County Board of Supervisors, we needed additional revenue and I supported a local property tax increase. Republicans supported no tax increases for any reason and I didn’t agree with that. So I switched parties because the Democratic Party was more aligned with my thinking.
What went into your thinking to run for the Assembly? Was it part of the game plan when you first ran for public office?
For most of the time that I was a supervisor, running for a seat in the California Legislature did not occur to me at all. I am a moderate and typically the party member winning the nomination (for either party) was not a moderate but more extreme. When California passed the Open Primary system that’s when I first started thinking that a moderate like me could get elected. In 2014, I decided to run and I won.
What are your early impressions of governing at the legislature level as opposed to on the county level?
We haven’t had many important votes so it is still too early to tell how things are going to shake out. On the county level, I got very good at counting. You needed three votes (out of five) to get things done and I was able to work that very well. At this level, I have to be able to count to 41. That’s going to be a little more difficult.
In these first couple of months I have been constantly reminded that I am a freshman, which is a little disconcerting. I was in business for 25 years and a supervisor for 14 years. The last time I was a freshman at anything, Richard Nixon was president. That was a longtime ago.
I will tell you that I have been very impressed at how hard the legislators and their staffs work. Everyone is working all the time. I like that. I have a very good work ethic and I like to see that. And the congeniality between legislators on both sides of the aisle couldn’t be better. Especially among the 27 members in the freshman class. I think it has great promise. Let me tell you that it is a lot better than Washington, D.C. (and the U.S. Congress). A congressman I know says it is very frustrating in D.C. because you can’t get anything done. He is frustrated by the gridlock. It is so different here in Sacramento. Everyone is committed to getting things done.
On issues important to my district—especially issues for rural California—I believe Republicans and Democrats can work together to get things accomplished.
I know you are on the Assembly Water Committee. With another bad snowpack year, I suspect water is a top of mind issue?
This year hasn’t been a great year for rain and snow and it has really brought into focus the problem we have. If increasing our water storage isn’t the most important issue, it should be. We need to start as early as possible laying the foundation for both water storage projects (that were in the Water Bond). We need both Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flats and we need to start working on them now.
I know you were only elected to your current post six months ago, but have you thought about your political future?
There are always rumors going around, but I think the best thing I can do is be the best assemblyman I can be. I am focused on this job and not thinking about the future at this point in time. I ran for this office because I really want to be able to make a difference. That’s what I need to concentrate on. There will be plenty of time in the future to think about the future.
Our members and your constituents produce some of the best fruits, vegetables, nuts, and I have to add wine, in the world. Are you a consumer and what are your favorites?
I have to say what I really enjoy is fruits and nuts. I love walnuts, almonds…or amands depending upon where you are from. I also like raisins and really all kinds of fruit.
As far as wine is concerned, let’s say every night I enjoy sampling what our state has to offer. Of course I come from Napa, which is king of the cab (cabernet sauvignon) but I am learning that Napa only represents 4 percent of the state’s wine grapes. I look forward to sampling what other areas have to offer.