Don’t be afraid to reach out to your state representatives. They work for you.

By Calvin Nuttall

When you walk through the echoing halls of the California State Capitol, you might expect to feel a sense of reverence, a feeling of respect and gravity centered around the historic importance of that hallowed place. That is not what I felt.

Calvin Nuttall in front of the California State Capitol

When I visited Sacramento with the Leadership Morgan Hill Class of 2024 March 13-14, I found a bustling, vibrant place, one where people of every background and interest congregate to engage in the messy business of democracy together. In front of the building, dozens of pop-up tents were arranged, filled with Californians advocating for this policy or raising awareness of that issue.

With my first look at the Capitol Building itself, it was obvious that it is not a stagnant place trapped in some nostalgic memory of the past, but one in ongoing flux.

The wings of the grand structure were festooned in construction scaffolding, a part of a project overhauling the Capitol Annex, where the offices of the governor and legislature were traditionally held.

Instead, we walked a few blocks to the 10-story building known colloquially as the “swing space,” where legislators and their staff have temporary offices during the renovations. A far cry from the grandiose Greco-Roman architecture of the Capitol, this was a bustling, 21st-century office building. There we met State Sen. John Laird and members of his staff for a casual meeting that included lunch.

Elected in 2020, the Democrat represents California’s Senate District 17, which encompasses all of Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo counties, portions of Monterey County and southern Santa Clara County’s communities Gilroy, Morgan Hill, and San Martin.

“The leadership class used to come to visit at the same time every year, before the pandemic,” he said. “It’s nice everyone is back and doing this. It is bittersweet for me in an odd way, because I am losing Santa Clara County next year in my Senate district.”

I was struck by how easy it was to get into a room with my legislator — in the middle of his workday no less — and with how comfortable and familiar he was with the folks from LMH. According to Laird, he spends a great deal of time in his district connecting with constituents, making an effort to be as easy to reach as possible.

“No longer representing Morgan Hill will be a sad thing,” Laird said. “I represented the area for six years in the Assembly, and then four more years in the Senate. When I was Resources Secretary under Jerry Brown working on Anderson Dam and other water projects, these things all put me back in Morgan Hill. I have real affection for that community.”

It was not long after meeting Laird when I was shaking hands with our other state representative, Assemblymember Gail Pellerin. Her District 28 reaches north from Morgan Hill into south San Jose, and west to the coast from Big Basin to Santa Cruz.

A former journalist, she once covered Sacramento politics from an objective point of view, but she soon found that she was too passionate and opinionated to remain impartial for long.

“I love Morgan Hill,” she said. “I am so lucky to represent this district. I want to make sure that you have good representation here in the legislature, and the best way for me to do that is to hear from you. If you ever have an issue or a question or a concern, please give us a call. We have a small office located in Morgan Hill, at the city administration building, that acts as a home base when I’m in Morgan Hill. Though I tend to spend more time at Erik’s Deli when I’m there,” she added with a laugh and smile.

The backstage tour didn’t end with our representatives. We were also introduced to Naomi Padron, a lobbyist and former Capitol staffer with experience in both the Assembly and Senate; David Bowman, a principal clerk for the Assembly; and several other movers and shakers behind the scenes. The excursion culminated with the opportunity to step onto the floor of the Assembly chamber itself.

While it would have been tough to do and see so much in the Capitol in such a short time without the guidance and connections offered by the Leadership Morgan Hill program, getting involved at a grassroots level with our state government is something any Californian can do. Everybody I met, from the staff to the politicians, were eager to engage with the public and offer more ways to get involved.

If you have an issue you wish to advocate for, a grievance to air, or just a simple question, don’t be afraid to reach out to your state representatives. I think you will find them to be much more accessible than you imagine. After all, they work for you.

To learn more and contact John Laird, visit To learn more and contact Gail Pellerin, visit

Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill-based freelance reporter and columnist.