(Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been paraphrased for brevity and clarity.)
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson was first elected to the California Assembly in 1998 where she served for six years. After a several year hiatus, she was elected to the State Senate in 2012.
From your start in Boston, how did you end up in the Golden State?
I grew up just outside of Boston as a suffering Boston Red Sox fan as we went 85 years in between championships. I came out to California to go to college at Scripps College in Claremont, where I majored in government and sociology. I did go back to Boston to attend law school at Boston University, but I came back as soon as I could. I didn’t even attend the commencement ceremony after I graduated from law school. I fell in love with California and came back here for good in June of 1975.
Can you tell us a little bit about your career in the legal realm?
I was fortunate enough to begin my career in the district attorney’s office in Santa Barbara County. I did that for a couple of years before moving to Los Angeles to practice law for a few more years. Then I moved back to Santa Barbara and went into private practice in a law firm with my husband, the Law Offices of Eskin and Jackson. I was in that practice for 18 years involved in civil litigation in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and way too much family law.
You first ran for office in 1998. What brought you into the political arena?
That was my first run for political office, but I had been involved in politics at the grass roots level, especially in women’s rights issues, for many years. In fact, my first lesson in democracy and civics and women’s issues took place when I was a young girl and wanted to play Little League baseball in Boston. I was a very good player, but the Little League would not let me be on a team because I was a girl. My parents said if I disagree I should fight and I did. I put together a petition to allow girls to play in Little League. I walked around the neighborhood and got many people to sign it—though some did not—and I sent it to the Little League. I did not hear anything back at all which surprised me…and was my first lesson. I decided that someday when I had the opportunity, they would regret that.
I suspect, you very much enjoyed watching the Little League World Series this last year, which featured the first girl baseball player to play in that event?
I very much enjoyed that!
When you did run for office did you have a signature issue?
I didn’t have a signature issue, but I was very involved in domestic violence issues and the rights of victims. In fact, I helped found the first domestic violence shelter in the area. I was also involved with the establishment of a rape crisis center. I was very interested in the rights of victims especially concerning sex-based crimes.
I also had a lot of interest in the activity surrounding off-shore drilling and making sure that our magnificent coastline remained intact. I learned a lot about the environment and land use and energy and how those issues worked together. Those were my key issues while in the Assembly.
After you termed out of the assembly, did you return to private law practice?
I did not. I was involved in several things over the years, including teaching at UC Santa Barbara and at Antioch University. I started two non-profit organizations and did a local radio talk show. I also ran for the State Senate in 2008 for Tom McLintock’s old seat against his protégé Tony Strickland. I lost by 4/10ths of a percentage point.
I’ve maintained that passion for public service throughout. California has always been known as the state that invents the future. We are always looking for new ideas. I wanted to be part of solving problems again, and so I did run for the State Senate again in 2012 and won. My goal is to continue to try and help my constituents and articulate a vision for the future. We need to adopt new technologies while still holding on to the values that we hold dear.
You have quite a bit of agriculture in your district. What is your take on California’s ag industry?
It’s a perfect example of how we need to adapt technology to fit our needs. Take drone technology. It can be very useful in surveying an area, identifying problems and maximizing the efficiency of the land. At the same time, there are issues about privacy that have to be addressed.
I think it is very important that we use new technology to help agriculture maximize its yields and to efficiently use whatever tools we have.
With regard to water, I don’t think we should scapegoat agriculture or any other sector. We need to figure out the best use of our water and use it efficiently. But I don’t think water should be the subject of profit. It should not be profit driven. We need to make sure agriculture has enough water to grow its crops and sustain its farms.
We are in difficult times, and right now people need to use water sparingly and we need to maximize its use. But out of adversity comes opportunity. I think it is very good that we are having a conversation about water. It is extremely important to my constituents. I have a lot of agriculture in my district.
You have now served two stints in the Legislature. Has it changed? Is there more cooperation? Some have credited the top two primary system for electing candidates that are not at each political end of the spectrum but more moderate and willing to work together.
I don’t see that the top two primary system has accomplished that. I think the people are tired of the acrimony in Sacramento and Washington where it is even worse. The public wants us to cooperate and I believe we are trying to focus on working together and trying to do what’s best for the state.
What’s in your political future?
Most likely I will run for reelection in 2016, which will take me to 2020. By that time I will have reached a significant birthday and I will have to decide what I’d like to do. But right now I am focused on the immediate future which is to do the best job I can representing my constituents.
Our members and your constituents produce the finest fruits, vegetables and nuts in the world. Are you a consumer of our products?
Absolutely! I love strawberries from Oxnard and Santa Maria, the flowers from Carpinteria, the good wine my district produces. I am a regular at the local farmers’ markets. I love the avocados, the raspberries, the lemons and citrus, and, of course, the broccoli that grows in my district. And the fresh flowers. I am very much an advocate of the farm-to-fork movement and also of the effort to get salad bars in our schools. Establishing a habit of healthy eating for our youngsters is very important. It is better for everyone when they eat more fruits and vegetables.
Agriculture is a very important economic driver in my district, from farmers to fishermen, we have it all.