Bill Monning, a longtime political player who narrowly lost a 1993 race to represent the Central Coast in the US Congress, says he plans to run for a seat in the state Assembly—with one provision.
In February 2008, voters may decide to change the state’s term limits law, which would allow Assemblyman John Laird to run again. Monning says he won’t challenge Laird. But if voters reject the term limits plan, then Monning, an attorney and professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and the Monterey College of Law, will set his sights on the 27th District seat.
He believes that his professional experience in conflict resolution would come in handy in Sacramento. “I’m very confident that people can pursue other ways of solving conflict,” he says. “That’s a key interest of mine in running.”
“Politics is in my blood.”
It’s two days before César Chávez’s birthday and four days before Monning’s birthday when he tells me this. After revealing his political plans, he moves on to a story about meeting Chávez.
It was the summer of 1973. Nagi Daifullah and Juan de la Cruz had recently been shot and killed on United Farm Workers picket lines in the Central Valley. Monning, a new Berkeley grad, drove to Delano to volunteer for the UFW. Union attorneys wanted Monning to interview farmworkers about the shootings. Monning met Chávez in La Paz.
“César asked me if I spoke Spanish.” Manning didn’t. “My first night in La Paz, I stayed up most of it, studying Spanish books. César’s parting words were: ‘So you need to learn Spanish.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ ”
Monning did learn Spanish, from the campesinos, he says. Now, he’s fluent; he’s since taught negotiation and mediation classes in Spanish, in Peru and Chile.
He also went on to become a union lawyer, working for California Rural Legal Assistance in Salinas and championing civil rights. In 1980, Monning and others called on the county to adopt field-posting laws after chemicals sprayed on produce fields poisoned dozens of farmworkers. The county ordinance became a model for the state’s field-posting laws.
In 1993, Monning ran the congressional seat that was vacated when Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget picked Leon Panetta to lead the department. In a field of 26 candidates, Monning finished a close second to Sam Farr. A year later, Monning challenged then-Assemblyman Bruce McPherson for his seat in Sacramento, narrowly losing the race to the Republican incumbent.
For the next 10 years, Monning focused on education and human rights issues. He also stayed active in state and local issues, working with groups including the Monterey County Task Force on Campaign Finance Reform, the local Peace Coalition and the Sierra Club.
In 2003, Monning co-founded Global Majority, Inc., an organization based at MIIS that trains students in non-violent conflict resolution. It will host an international negotiation and mediation training seminar in Amman, Jordan in June.
“With the work I’ve been doing, internationally and locally, with conflict resolution and education and training,” he says, “politics is in my blood.”
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Currently, legislators may serve a total of 14 years—six in the Assembly and eight in the Senate. The initiative aims to limit legislators to 12 years in office, but they would be able to spend all or part of that time in either House.
If enough signatures are gathered, the issue will go to voters on Feb. 5, 2008. If the initiative passes, Laird says, he will run for his fourth term in the Assembly. “And I will endorse John Laird whole-heartedly,” Monning says. In this scenario, Laird is all but guaranteed to win.
Three Santa Cruz County Democrats have already announced their candidacy—Emily Riley and Ryan Coonerty (Santa Cruz’s mayor and vice mayor, respectively) and Felton water activist Barbara Sprenger. That field is likely to split the Santa Cruz County vote. Conventional wisdom says the race is Monning’s to lose. And he believes he deserves the job for old-fashioned reasons. “It may sound corny,” he says, “but I have a real passion for the diverse people of the Central Coast and the environmental integrity of the Central Coast.”