Tuolomne’s Murrison pounds Mono County pavement for 25th District GOP nom
Mono County residents are looking at a busy June primary, electing a sheriff, superior court justice and a new District 4 supervisor. There is, however, another open seat that they’ll be considering: the state assembly representative in the 25th district, which includes Mono County.
Tuolomne Supervisor Teri Murrison is running as a Republican for the seat that will free up when current assemblyman Tom Berryhill makes a run for the State Senate.
Born and raised in California, Murrison’s family ran a sheep ranch. “My dad was an animal scientist at UC Davis,” she recalled. “I’ve lived in Africa and Chile, but home was always Mendocino County.”
She moved to the Central Valley in 1984, where her husband’s family had a trout farm on the Lower Merced River. With that family history, it’s reasonable to assume she’s an animal lover. “Oh, yeah … five horses and three dogs.” A love of backcountry horseback riding eventually led the family to Tuolomne County in 1992.
How did she end up in public service? “I got a B.A. in English and Political Science, not for politics, but because I wanted to go to law school,” Murrison recalled. “I got in with a transportation planning agency and never made it to law school.” That’s where her connection with Mono County starts. “I was involved with Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System from its inception in the mid-to-late-’90s, and worked with gateway communities in the counties surrounding Yosemite.”
Murrison has served on the Tuolomne Board of Supervisors for the past four years.
Why did she get involved in government?
“We’re outgunned [in Tuolumne] by more urban regions and it’s clear that laws are being made without a significant rural presence,” she said. “I see getting into politics as a way to level the playing field and help rural communities develop their own voice.”
She then asked some other female legislators how they got into government. “Senator Mimi Walters from Southern Californian told me simply, ‘I wanted to make the decisions.’ That was my other ‘ah-hah moment. It wasn’t a power thing; it was about the ability to represent rural interests.”
When a seat opened on Tuolomne’s Board of Supervisors, she ran and was elected in 2006. “The move to state assembly has been evolutionary. I don’t like to hear ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it;’ I like to hear staff working with people.”
Times were tough on the Tuolomne Board, and Murrison said they survived by cutting the budget, reducing staff (by 200 people) and closing a county hospital. “Whatever it takes to live within our means,” she said. “The state, by comparison, has done whatever it takes to exempt itself from that responsibility. If anything, they take local tax dollars to fund reckless spending and hand down unfunded mandates. They not only tell you what you have to do, they tell you how they want it done, leaving you no flexibility. We need more people in Sacramento to reform the relationship between the state and the counties. It’s just not working.”
When [Berryhill] announced he was running for the Senate, that open seat kept boomeranging back to her. “I could stay in my supervisor seat … it’s a great job and I love it, but I thought, do we want to put up with fewer deputies, more potholes or go to the assembly and fight for what we deserve?”
Murrison’s the first to admit her views on the environment have met with some controversy. “We have to take care of the land, and our economy depends on it. You have to balance conservation, but use it in a sustainable way. Those who don’t have balance are alarmed about my approach toward ‘legislated coordination,’ which requires the departments of the Interior and Agriculture to work with state and local governments and tribal leaders in the general decision-making processes,” she stated. “NEPA is about bridging the human and environmental impacts of a proposed action. People have been afraid of it for years because environmental activists have used it effectively for their interests, but it really allows for balance.”
“We lost a sawmill in Tuolomne and with that about 1,000 direct and indirect jobs. That doesn’t help the county’s situation,” she points out.
Murrison said she thinks the most immediate problem the state faces is the economy and lack of jobs. Construction, she points out, is off about 80%, but adds that numerous other industries have been negatively impacted. “The cost of doing business and taxes cost us about 600,000 jobs last year from people moving to other states. Government has tried to be all things to all people, but hasn’t been fiscally disciplined. We have to look at regulations … are they meeting their purpose? Are they cost-effective? Is there a better way to do things? Have they just outlived their usefulness?”
As to California’s woes, she doesn’t blame Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Economic health is when there are more people coming in than leaving. For the past 10 years, it’s been the other way around. That’s the canary in the coalmine,” Murrison opined. “From Old Susannah to the Beach Boys, people used to sing about coming to California. Over time, we’ve become so restrictive that we’ve legislated away opportunity. Now people go elsewhere with their banjo on their knee. How do you justify spending your way out of a recession and fund it with taxes? That hasn’t led to increased prosperity.”
When he was our assemblyman, Dave Cogdill was very active and visible here. Not so much with Tom Berryhill, who was something of a disappointment to many in the area. Will we see you around these parts? “My leadership style is to be engaged. I’m interactive,” she replied. “It’s important to maintain a strong connection. Service means knowing what people are thinking and what they want. I’m here and I’ll be back … frequently. Ask my constituents from any party if I’ve kept in contact. I think they’ll emphatically say yes. In Tuolomne, I don’t work for the county … I work for the people. County staff has had a hard time understanding that, but my duty is to the people I’m serving, be it at the county or at the state level. That’s not going to change.”