.Healdsburg’s Mike McGuire Now State Senate Leader

From the outside, Mike McGuire seems like exactly the type of person who would rise to the top of the California Senate.

The Healdsburg politician was student body president in high school, according to Sonoma Magazine, and his classmates voted him “most likely to become president” in the senior yearbook. After winning a seat on the local school board at just 19, McGuire then served on the Healdsburg City Council and Sonoma County Board of Supervisors before his election to the Senate, where he already spent the past two years as majority leader.

But at his swearing-in on Feb. 5 as the next Senate president pro tem—a powerful role heading the upper chamber of the Legislature that gives him a direct hand in guiding budget and policy decisions for 39 million Californians—an emotional McGuire marveled that he had made it at all.

“In other places in this country, a kid like me would have been forgotten,” McGuire said, recounting a modest youth in Sonoma County, where his divorced mother scraped to put food on the table, he helped out on his beloved grandmother’s farm and he struggled to finish school.

“But not here in California,” he continued. “In California, we fight to lift up every person, no matter your background, your skin color, who you are, who you love or how you identify. Here in the Golden State, we believe that anyone can do great things.”

Whether they still can is another matter. McGuire—known around the Capitol for his boundless energy and positive attitude—must now turn that optimism that the California Dream remains achievable towards solutions for the major challenges facing the state.

Chief among them is a projected multibillion-dollar budget deficit, which is expected to consume much of lawmakers’ energy this session. There is also an enduring shortage of affordable housing and the seemingly intractable homelessness crisis that has pushed many residents to the limits of their patience, as well as destructive natural disasters aggravated by climate change.

McGuire’s sprawling coastal district, which stretches from the northern Bay Area to the Oregon border, has been slammed particularly hard by wildfires in recent years. He told reporters that stabilizing the convulsing home insurance market is a top priority, though he is not a fan of the regulatory push to raise rates as insurers, who argue that their losses have become too great, flee California.

“Raising rates on homeowners is not the silver bullet,” McGuire said, suggesting that lawmakers should focus on hardening homes and communities to withstand fires. “We’ve seen other states roll out the red carpet for insurance carriers, giving them higher rates, and those insurance carriers still left that market.”

Termed out of the Legislature in 2026, McGuire must rush to make his mark on the Senate. His tenure is unlikely to radically change the business of the Legislature. And the budget deficit could inhibit many ambitious proposals.

But the optics of McGuire’s ascension are notable: It’s the first time since 1866 that a lawmaker from the north coast leads the Senate, the Associated Press reported. Alongside his Assembly counterpart, Speaker Robert Rivas of Hollister, both legislative leaders now hail from more rural, agricultural areas of California—a shift in the epicenter of power. McGuire succeeds Toni Atkins of San Diego, while Rivas replaced Anthony Rendon of Los Angeles County last summer.

And while Californians continue to elect an increasingly diverse Legislature—including record numbers of women, Latino and openly LGBTQ+ members this session—those representatives have chosen a straight, white man as Senate leader. That has not been the case for nearly a decade.

“Know that representation matters,” McGuire told reporters, “and I will be following through with my commitment and my promise” to work closely with those diverse lawmakers to address the issues they care about.

When a new legislative leader takes charge, the biggest changes are usually to the internal power structure rather than to policymaking.

On Feb. 8, state Senate President Pro Tem Mike McGuire unveiled his reshuffling of the leadership team and committee assignments. The shakeup rewards key allies who helped the Healdsburg politician pull together the votes last summer to secure his office—but also several rivals he beat in the process.

That includes Sen. Lena Gonzalez, representing Long Beach, who will succeed McGuire as majority leader, his deputy in charge of wrangling the Senate’s ideologically diverse supermajority caucus. Gonzalez’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Sen. Monique Limón, representing Santa Barbara, whose name was also batted around last year as in the hunt to become pro tem, will continue as caucus chairperson.

Team Building

Sen. Angelique Ashby, representing Sacramento, who was a major player in whipping support for McGuire, will be one of two assistant majority leaders and take over the business, professions and economic development committee.

She said in a statement that receiving those appointments “in my second year is beyond humbling.”

Perhaps in recognition of the challenging optics of a straight, white man heading an increasingly diverse Legislature, five of the seven members of McGuire’s leadership team are women and five are people of color.

“We couldn’t be more excited to get to work for California, tackling the tough issues facing our communities,” McGuire said in a statement. “The members of the California State Senate—who are more representative of the Golden State than ever before—are ready to keep us moving forward, all of us, all together.”

McGuire appointed another close ally, Sen. Anna Caballero, representing Merced, to chair the powerful appropriations committee, which determines the fate of every bill with a significant fiscal impact during the semiannual suspense file process.

Sen. Scott Wiener, representing San Francisco, will now oversee the budget committee as California navigates a projected multibillion-dollar deficit. A major advocate for increasing housing construction and public transit, he could serve as a bulwark against significant funding cuts that have been proposed to those programs this year.

“Our state has made real progress on critical priorities in recent years, and it’s vital we protect that progress,” Wiener said in a statement.

Overall, McGuire kept more than half of the two dozen Senate committee chairpersons intact. Other changes include swapping Sen. Nancy Skinner, representing Berkeley, who led the budget committee for three years, to head the housing committee, replacing Wiener; elevating first-term Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, representing Los Angeles, to lead the labor committee; and splitting the governance and finance committee into two separate committees on local government and on revenue and taxation.


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