Inspirational Leadership: From Dentistry to the Assembly

Early in my career as a practicing dentist I never imagined that I would end up as a politician in Sacramento. Yet, nearly thirty years after first opening a family dental practice in Cloverdale, I am now proud to represent a diverse and important district as a California State Assemblymember. The 2nd District comprises all of Del Norte, Trinity, Humboldt, and Mendocino counties, plus northern and coastal Sonoma County, including the northern half of Santa Rosa. If you are familiar with the dynamics of California’s North Coast, you might imagine the extensive range of legislative concerns that are important to me and my constituents.Jim_Wood_speaking_2.jpg

For me, the road to becoming a state legislator started with a passion for health care policy and a curiosity for the political arena of dentistry. Soon after opening my own small business, I became active in the California Dental Association and served as a member and eventual chair of the Council on Legislation. This provided my first look into the California political landscape and fueled my interest to serve as a public leader.

The next step was to take my experience and interests into my own community and serve as a Planning Commissioner for the town of Healdsburg, followed by an 8-year stretch on the City Council. I was fortunate to work with an impressive team of fellow Sac_State_Capitol.pngCouncilmembers to create programs and initiatives that put Healdsburg on the map as a leader in sustainability and health policy. As a co-founder of the Healdsburg Green City Committee, we encouraged water conservation, solar installation, and efficient energy for new construction.  Together, we created an innovative recycled water program to assist farmers and businesses in the early stages of California’s historic drought.  We were also the first city in California to cut off sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21, which although it was resisted by the tobacco industry, did set the stage for eventual state legislation.

I believe that it is essential for current and future leaders to accumulate an extensive variety of work and life experience in order to best serve their communities. As a graduate of the Leadership for a Sustainable Future program, I learned of the extensive opportunities to get involved with many local organizations and government, and I took a shot at some of those many opportunities. For me, another noteworthy takeaway was learning that so many issues, programs, and cultures are connected in ways that may not seem apparent at first, but with a closer look the associations are obvious and significant.

To further expand on my career, I was educated in forensic dentistry and became a member of a national emergency response team. I was called to the World Trade Center after 9/11, to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and recently served as part of the emergency response team helping to identify victims of the fires in Lake County. Serving the country and state soon after these tragedies, I knew I wanted to become more involved. I thought the best place to make a large-scale difference was at the State Legislature.

As a representative of the 2nd District Assembly, I observe first-hand the importance of having a committed and understanding leadership team. It is essential for legislators to listen to their district, recognize the characteristics of the state, and work cohesively with all members of the Assembly and Senate. As with most leadership positions, this responsibility often requires balancing the differing concerns of many to develop a solution that is best for the district and state. Of course, in the legislature, the identified solution must then be negotiated by 119 other representatives, each with their own agendas.

State_Assembly_Room.jpgSuccessful leadership is highlighted with respect. In every sector of life there will be disagreements, but what stands out is how the differences are met. It may be easy to simply dismiss the opposition, especially when the majority is on your side--as it is for California Democrats. However, I have found that dismissal further extends separation of the two parties, political or otherwise. As a leader, it is important to listen with the intention of truly understanding the other side. Oftentimes, after some colorful discussion, we come to realize all sides are actually working towards a somewhat similar goal.

This attentive style of leadership has earned me the respect of the legislature, which proves very helpful for me to best advance progressive legislation in the 2nd District and greater California. In my first year in the Assembly, I authored 9 bills that were signed into law, and already in 2016 I have received bi-partisan support for emergency legislation and important health care improvements. I am proud to have recently authored a California bill that increases the minimum purchasing age for tobacco from 18 to 21 years. This measure, part of a larger tobacco bill package, supports an overall healthier state and helps keep tobacco away from susceptible adolescents with still developing brains.

I am so grateful to my colleagues who stood up to the tobacco industry with me, and I expect continued support as I fight for a healthier California by authoring additional important legislation such as requiring coverage of opioid abuse-deterrent drugs, increasing access to mental health care, advocating for rural hospitals, and improving Medi-Cal and Denti-Cal programs. My background and passion for improved health care, along with my aptitude for cohesive leadership, paved the way for the new Speaker of the Assembly, Anthony Rendon, to select me as the next chair of the Assembly Health Committee. I am honored to accept such an integral role in influencing the future of a healthy state.    

Because I was selected as the committee chair while still a first term Assemblymember, and with the new term limits allowing up to 12 years in either state house, there is an unprecedented opportunity for me to hold this position over the next decade. I believe that consistent leadership in the Health Committee will ensure that the issues most important to the health of the entire state population are prioritized and accomplished. As a leader, I will advocate for health care policies that provide high quality healthcare to all Californians. jim_wood_speaking.jpg

I think we all agree that we are very fortunate to be living in California, especially along the North Coast. Not only do we have access to the pristine coastline of the Pacific Ocean, but we are able to enjoy quality craft breweries and the highest-rated wineries. The immaculate Sierra Nevada mountain range can be visited within a half-day's drive. We are proud to show off our culture, and we feel safe truly being ourselves. Not only do we have all that, but we have a legislature that cares about the people and the overall health and prosperity of the state. Oftentimes, the California Legislature sets the standards for the rest of the country, and what we do, others see value in and will often follow. I am honored to be part of that inspiring style of leadership.

I am rather proud of the bill packages I have authored and the historic legislation that I have helped pass through the Assembly in just over one year. I look forward with optimism, knowing that so much more can be accomplished over the next 5 terms. I am committed to my role as a leader in the state and to best represent the remarkable characters, communities, and environments of the North Coast. 



Elected in 2014, Assemblymember Jim Wood (D- Healdsburg) represents the 2nd Assembly District, which includes all or part of Del Jim_Wood.jpgNorte, Trinity, Humboldt, Mendocino and Sonoma counties. Prior to the Assembly, Jim served on the Healdsburg Planning Commission for four years before winning a seat on Healdsburg’s City Council where he served for eight years, two terms as Mayor.

Assemblymember Wood is a graduate of the “Leadership for a Sustainable Future” Class of 2005. As a dentist, he opened a family practice in Cloverdale in 1987 and currently serves on the Board of Advisors for the Pediatric Dental Initiative, a dental surgery center for children with severe dental problems. With his background in health care, he was recently selected as the Chair of the Assembly Health Committee. 

This blog was produced as informational material for the Leadership for a Sustainable Future course.  It has been provided to the public to promote community wide education on issues of sustainability. You can support the education efforts of the Leadership Institute, 501 (c)3 non-profit, by donating here.