John Laird grew up in Vallejo and had come to Santa Cruz in 1968 to attend UCSC. In 1974, he began working for Santa Cruz County as a budget analyst. He ran for Santa Cruz City Council in 1981 and was the leading vote getter that year. In 1983, he was selected by his council colleagues to serve as mayor for a one-year term. That year he would receive national media attention as one of the first openly gay mayors in the U.S. He would serve a second term as mayor in 1987-88.
During his time on the city council, John led Santa Cruz to become the third city in the nation—after West Hollywood and Berkeley—to offer domestic partner benefits to its employees. He also advocated for the designation of Monterey Bay as a national marine sanctuary. John joined the BAYMEC board in early 1985, significantly increasing our visibility and presence in Santa Cruz County.
After being termed out of the city council, John served as executive director of the Santa Cruz AIDS Project from 1991-94. He was then elected to the Cabrillo Community College board for two terms from 1994-2002 .In 2002, John won a seat in the State Assembly representing a district that included parts of Monterey, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties. That year, he and San Francisco’s Mark Leno became the first two openly gay men to be elected to the state legislature in California.
John continued to be a strong advocate for the environment in the Assembly. He was one of the co-authors of AB 32, the landmark 2006 state law that regulated greenhouse gases and established California’s cap and trade program. He also authored the bill that established the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, a state agency focused on protecting and preserving the environment in the Sierra Nevada mountains. He also had a major influence on the state’s finances during his four years as chair of the Assembly Budget Committee from 2004 to 2008. He was termed out of the Assembly at the end of 2008, but that was not the end to John’s career in public service.
John served as California’s Secretary for Natural Resources under Governor Jerry Brown from 2011-2019. In 2013, he was one of 10 LGBTQ public officials who were honored by the Obama Administration as a “Harvey Milk Champion of Change” at a White House ceremony. In November 2022, he won election to the State Senate in the greater Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay/Santa Clara area.