Chris Rogers showed up at Black Oak Coffee on Sunday morning, and for over an hour engaged in fast-paced, comprehensive and focused discussion with a handful of local residents about his candidacy for State Assembly District 2, the seat being vacated by Jim Wood.
For the past six years Rogers, 36, has served on the Santa Rosa City Council, including two terms as mayor. But when Wood, who has represented District 2 for almost 10 years, announced he would not seek re-election in the 2024 general election, Rogers was one of the first to declare his candidacy for the seat.
Another candidate: Healdsburg’s own city council member and mayor, Ariel Kelley. As a well-known local presence since she joined the council in 2018—especially in the past year, when she has been the mayor—Kelley is probably the most familiar candidate of the nine running in the March primary. She claimed the endorsement of all four of her fellow council members and several other regional notables (Supervisors James Gore and Lynda Hopkins among them), many of whom are also listed as endorsing Rogers.
One name Kelley can’t claim, at least in the primary, is Mike McGuire. The influential state senator, a Healdsburg native, is lending his name to Rogers’ campaign, as are U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson and a number of other familiar regional politicians and officials—including six mayors, as Rogers slyly points out.
The reason could have something to do with Rogers’ three years in McGuire’s Senate office as a staffer, working with state departments and other legislators on behalf of McGuire’s Senate district, also District 2. That geographically overlaps to a great degree with the Assembly seat Rogers now seeks, though McGuire’s extends south from Santa Rosa to Petaluma to Marin County to the Bay.
Rogers lives in Santa Rosa, at the southern end of the district, with his wife Sarah Bellak, an emergency room nurse at Kaiser. He was in Healdsburg as part of an ongoing meet-the-candidate series of meetings he’s been holding throughout the district in Santa Rosa, Guerneville, Windsor and now Healdsburg, after which he headed north to Cloverdale.
He’s held other similarly informal meetings even farther north, in Ukiah, Del Norte, Arcata and Willits, with Crescent City, McKinleyville and Gualala coming up on the coffee-klatch schedule. The diverse geography of the Second District means that Santa Rosa exposure and expertise only go so far when many of the voters live in Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity and Del Norte counties.
“I’m working my way through the district, re-introducing myself to people who haven’t seen me for a while,” Rogers said.
He stresses “re-introduction” because he is aware the people he may have contacted in years past may not remember him, though he has worked throughout the North Coast since his college days at UC Santa Barbara (Class of 2009) when he interned for Lynn Woolsey.
His subsequent roles included three years in McGuire’s State Senate administration until 2016, when Rogers left to run for Santa Rosa City Council.
“I was his aide while they were sitting there having a conversation with him; I was in on the meetings,” he said. “But some of those folks don’t always remember me from that experience. They’re focused on the senator.”
In Healdsburg, beneath a colorful Rima Makaryan mural of coffee and its mythos, Rogers engaged a core group of locals who listened closely to his words and asked pointed questions. Topics ranged from water supply and the impact of drought, electric vehicles and renewable energy, opioids and mental health response to emergency calls, climate change and fire.
Wherever the questions came from or wherever they went, Rogers seemed comfortable, if not energized; able to pivot and contribute.
“Did you know that all the plastics ever made are still in existence,” he stated, more than asked. “We need to reduce our use of plastics.” That led to a discussion of the floating solar array at Healdsburg’s water treatment plant, and how changing the floating platforms to bamboo might be the next step in smart ecology.
Rogers is not the only candidate who has declared for the Assembly District 2 seat. The complete list of candidates includes:
• Cynthia Click, Willits resident
• Michael Greer (R), Del Norte Unified School District trustee
• Rusty Hicks, California Democratic Party chair
• Ariel Kelley, Healdsburg councilmember
• Frankie Myers, vice chair of Yurok Tribe
• Chris Rogers, Santa Rosa councilmember
• Ted Williams, Mendocino County supervisor
The district has voted heavily Democratic in recent years, and there is only one Republican in the race, Michael Greer. The primary election is set for March 4; the top two vote-getting candidates at the March election, regardless of party, will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot, for a two-year State Assembly term to begin in January 2025.