Laura Capps takes the oath of office for Santa Barbara County Second District Supervisor on Tuesday.
Laura Capps takes the oath of office for Santa Barbara County Second District Supervisor on Tuesday. Capps won the seat in the June election. Her term starts in January, and since her predecessor, Gregg Hart, resigned to serve in the State Assembly, she was appointed by the governor to serve in the meantime. Credit: Kelsey Gerckens Buttitta / County of Santa Barbara photo

From Washington, D.C., to the Santa Barbara Unified school board, Laura Capps has dedicated her career to public service by working in government, on campaigns and for nonprofit organizations.

She ran unopposed and was elected to the Second District seat on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in June, and joined her colleagues at Tuesday’s meeting.

Her predecessor, Gregg Hart, was elected to the state Assembly and resigned as supervisor after his last meeting on Friday. He was sworn into his new role on Monday.

Capps was appointed by the governor to serve on the Board of Supervisors until her term officially starts Jan. 10. She thanked Gov. Gavin Newsom for his “quick action to make sure we literally didn’t skip a beat between Supervisor Hart’s impeccable service and mine, which starts today.”

The Second District represents residents in unincorporated areas of the eastern Goleta Valley, Isla Vista, UC Santa Barbara, and parts of Goleta and Santa Barbara.

“I’m ready to serve not just the Second District but every single person in this county,” she said.

Capps said she has been having “supervisor school” meetings with the County Executive Office to get up to speed on county issues, and has been watching meetings from home.

“I can’t wait to support the things that you really care about, and improve things that we do here for our county,” she said in brief remarks Tuesday morning.

Capps’ involvement in politics goes back decades. She was a White House speechwriter for then-President Bill Clinton in her early 20s and worked as communications director for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Laura Capps, left, joins the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors for its Tuesday meeting.
Laura Capps, left, joins the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors for its Tuesday meeting. Credit: Grace Kitayama / Noozhawk photo

Capps’ father, Walter Capps, was elected to Congress in 1996 and served until his death of a heart attack in 1997. His wife, Lois Capps, won his seat in a special election and represented the Santa Barbara area in Congress until retiring in 2017.

Despite her family’s political involvement, Capps says her family wasn’t very political until she was in her 20s.

“My mom was a school nurse and my dad was a professor at UCSB, as I mentioned, and so sometimes people assume that I grew up with them and in the office,” Capps said. “But I didn’t, and really I came to politics as much on my own.”

At first, Capps wanted to become a journalist and interned at local news organizations including KEYT and The Independent. She later realized that the majority of the coverage she cared about was political, so she started getting involved in campaigns.

“They’re so easy to get involved in. That’s the thing,” Capps said. “I’m not sure people realize that it’s there. If you’re at all curious about politics, or government, it’s very easy to volunteer on a campaign, and I started doing that.”

Capps also got involved in her school’s politics and spent a summer during college working on a presidential campaign in Washington, D.C.

“And just like that, when I was in Washington, D.C., I was electrified by that city, and knew that I wanted to return after I graduated,” she said.

Capps moved back to Santa Barbara after her son was born.

“Working in Washington, D.C., was incredibly exciting and meaningful to me in my 20s and 30s,” Capps said. “But in my 40s, I decided that returning home was important, and so I really did a 180 and went from working on a very, you know, national level to understanding how important, perhaps even more important, the local impacts are of public policy, of government services.

“That’s really why I ran for the county supervisors, is because inherent in the job is taking care of one another, and making sure that everyone has a good quality of life. The county is really on the frontlines of those decisions and people’s lives, whether it’s air quality or a good public health system or public safety with, you know, making sure we’re safe and our kids are safe. I mean, it touches upon everything and people’s lives.

“It’s not as perhaps as, you know, as I’m trying to think of the right word, as headline-grabbing as working with the United States Senate. But I now see having been back to my hometown for a decade now how incredibly important it is and more impactful.”

For the past six years, she has served on the Santa Barbara Unified District School District board of trustees. Capps said she led the charge from the board to create a more sustainably powered school district.

During her time on the board, the district transformed by installing solar energy sources on 20 campuses, and is now mostly fueled by renewable energy.  

Laura Capps takes the oath of office and signs paperwork on Tuesday as she joins the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
Laura Capps takes the oath of office and signs paperwork on Tuesday as she joins the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. Credit: Kelsey Gerckens Buttitta / County of Santa Barbara photo

Capps said that her six years on the board — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which there was no precedent for how to serve — have helped prepare her to serve in her new role. She said she sees the transition to supervisor as an extension of her role on the school board.

“I constantly reminded myself, even with people that I disagreed with, that they all were acting out of wanting the best for their kids. And I was as well, and that ideal is something I will bring with me to the county, even if a constituent or somebody sees things differently,” she said. “It’s not for lack of care. It’s actually just believing that there’s different paths for progress.” 

As someone who has strong ties to the community, Capps said she personally knows the people she serves.

“I know so many of the people involved,” Capps said. “Either my dentist, or my former teacher, or my reverend once spoke at a meeting. It’s incredibly personal, but it also makes it all the more important and meaningful to make sure I try to get it right and I work really hard.”

Capps unsuccessfully ran for the First District Board of Supervisors seat in 2020 against incumbent Das Williams. She moved and ran this year for the Second District seat.

Though Capps previously lost to Williams after a contentious campaign, she said she was looking forward to working with him on the board.

“Politics is politics. There are campaigns. He’s a professional. We move on,” Capps said.

She said she felt a connection to the Second District.

“Looking at the district, encompassing much of Santa Barbara and parts of Goleta and UCSB, where my dad spent 30 years of his life as a professor,” Capps said. “I, in a sense, grew up on that campus. Spending a lot of time there, and I just am so incredibly excited and honored to represent so many students in our county.”

Capps said poverty, housing, climate change, economic development, mental-health services, transportation and public safety are issues she wants to address on the board. 

“Poverty is an interconnected issue that touches on everything. If you’re working full time and you’re making minimum wage, or are close to it, I don’t know how you’re able to afford to live here,” she said. “I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get to work on all of these issues.”

Capps was elected to the seat in June, and her term starts Jan. 10. There will be a swearing-in ceremony in January, according to the county. 

Government code allows the governor to fill vacancies on county boards of supervisors, and the appointees hold office until the election and qualification of their successors. 

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli contributed reporting to this story.

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Grace Kitayama, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Grace Kitayama is a Noozhawk staff writer.