From protester to political newcomer, Lynda Hopkins eyes seat on Sonoma County Board of Supervisors
A 15-acre organic farm tucked into vineyards west of Healdsburg has served as the home base and launchpad for a first-time political candidate who until a year ago spent most of her working days tending dairy goats and harvesting vegetables.
Lynda Hopkins, a 33-year-old Stanford University graduate, Forestville resident and mother of two young children, still describes herself as a “milkmaid.” She and her husband have operated their Foggy River Farm on family land since 2008, selling the produce at street markets and at a pick-up stand on the farm.
These days, though, since jumping into the political ring and advancing as the top vote getter - ahead of her rival, former state Sen. Noreen Evans - in the primary to represent western Sonoma County on the Board of Supervisors, Hopkins spends most of her time campaigning, splitting it between phone banking, knocking on doors and attending neighborhood meet-and-greets.
On the campaign trail, she touts the “fresh perspective” she said she would bring to local government.
“I'm not running to be a politician. I've never aspired to be one,” she said. “I want to change the way local government works and give people a greater voice. And I want to change the world and make it a better place - call it good old-fashioned idealism.”
Activism in high school
Hopkins calls herself an “activist.” She dates her political awakening to a time after her parents divorced when she was 16, leaving her mom to take care of her two younger brothers and her.
“I was part of the small liberal minority at my high school in San Diego,” she said. “We were called the tree people, ironically.”
She recalled pulling George W. Bush campaign signs from a neighbor's lawn as a teenager, and later, at Stanford, participating in campus demonstrations protesting President Bush's policies and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She and her husband, Emmett, were volunteers for Barack Obama in Nevada during his 2008 campaign.
But before launching her bid to succeed Supervisor Efren Carrillo, Hopkins' local political experience was limited to her involvement in one issue - a disputed tribal housing, resort and winery development adjacent to her Eastside Road farm.
She emerged as a lead negotiator for a group of neighbors seeking to convince the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians to downsize their project. The deal between the two sides that Hopkins presented to the county has not advanced, but her role in the negotiations thrust her onto the political stage - where she was unknown - and that experience remains a key talking point on the campaign trail.
“There were a lot of meetings happening behind closed doors between the tribe and the county and it appeared like the county was just going after as much money as it could rather than bringing the community into the conversation,” she said in an August interview. “I realized that the county sometimes shies away from public engagement because it can be contentious. It's that lack of access that really leads to frustration and distrust in government.”
That message - emphasizing the need to make local government more accessible and transparent - and Hopkins' background as a farmer are key reasons for her strong showing so far, her supporters say. She has secured endorsements from influential business and agriculture interests, including the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, the Sonoma County Alliance and the advocacy group Save Our Sonoma Roads. She has amassed $425,000 in campaign donations since she launched her campaign, compared with $282,000 for Evans.
“What Lynda brings to the table is openness and an unbelievable work ethic,” said Mike Martini, a partner and general manager of Taft Street Winery in Sebastopol who served with Evans on the Santa Rosa City Council in the 1990s and early 2000s. “Lynda is out there, she's talking to people and trying to understand their problems. And she's an organic farmer, so she knows agriculture and she understands our issues and needs.”
To her critics, however, Hopkins is an untested novice with no record to show how she will address and vote on a range of county issues, from divisive land-use proposals including winery development and marijuana regulation, to county spending on roads and employee pensions.
“Maybe Lynda can take $300,000-plus for her campaign and not be influenced by those who gave it to her when she gets into office, but she would be one of the only ones I've ever seen who could do that,” said Mike Reilly, who held the west county seat for 12 years prior to Carrillo's 2008 election. Reilly and his predecessor, Ernie Carpenter, have both endorsed Evans. Carrillo has endorsed Hopkins.