Anthony Adams

Mendocino County deputy public defender Anthony Adams is a former member of the state Assembly. (Jim Miller

By Jim Miller
11/29/2014 9:30 PM

Four years ago this month, then-Assemblyman Anthony Adams had cleared out his Capitol office following two terms in the Legislature defined by a middle-of-the-night tax vote.

Adams could have run for re-election under the term limits law in effect then. But the Hesperia Republican’s February 2009 vote had taken its toll. He agreed to temporarily raise taxes as part of a deal to help bridge a $40 billion shortfall as the recession began hammering state finances.

Today, Adams and the other five Republicans who voted for the tax increase are all out of elected politics. The change in Adams’ circumstances, though, go much further than the others or most any former lawmaker, for that matter.

Adams now is re-registered with no party preference, living 500 miles from his former district, and spending several hours a day in the Ukiah courthouse or nearby county jail. Finishing up his first year as a Mendocino County deputy public defender, Adams carries a caseload that mixes misdemeanor and felonies and “never makes for a boring day.”

“One minute you’re helping somebody deal with a drunk-in-public. In the next hour, you’re doing a judgment and sentencing on someone getting 20 years,” Adams, 43, said in a recent interview. “It is everything I hoped it would be and more.”

California legislators come and go. Some move on to Congress or elected posts in local government. Others stay in the Capitol mix, heading up trade groups or becoming lobbyists. Most of the rest return to the law offices, farms, public-relations firms or other jobs they had before arriving in Sacramento.

Few, though, undergo as jarring a switch in life’s path as Adams’ transition from conservative legislator representing Southern California’s high desert to a public defender in the liberal North Coast.

“It’s a remarkable story, really,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who joined the Assembly the same year as Adams and now counts him as a constituent. “It shows the resilience, the indefatigable enthusiasm that Anthony has. He’s landed on his feet, probably in a different place than anyone would have thought he’d end up.”

Former Assembly GOP leader Mike Villines, who also voted for the 2009 budget deal and now is a Capitol lobbyist, said he wasn’t surprised by Adams’ new North Coast life.

“I asked, ‘Do you even have Internet up there?’ ” Villines said of Adams and his wife, Deanna . “I think he’s going to thrive in it. Knock on wood I never get in trouble up there, but he would be a great representative.”

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