Incumbent San Luis Obispo mayor Heidi Harmon is just days away from finishing her second term, and is hoping that she is re-elected for a third term to continue her legacy.
The young girl who once dreamt of growing up and wearing a red flower in her hair has been running the city of San Luis Obispo for four years. Harmon first fell in love with wearing a red rose when she frequented various Mexican (Acapulco) restaurants throughout her childhood with her mother in Pasadena, California.
Harmon always admired the way the young ladies embraced the beauty and symbolism of the Latin culture, and now uses that red rose as part of her signature image. For Harmon, it is more than just an accessory, but also a way to pay homage to her culture.
“I remember these servers wearing gigantic paper flowers in their hair. And I just thought to myself this is what I want to be when I grow up, this is the peak of adult awesomeness,” Harmon said, adding a chuckle. “I am originally from Pasadena, it is the city of roses and my great grandmother was in the first rose parade in the 1800’s. I think that is where the seed, so to speak, was planted. Somewhere in my mid 30’s I just picked it up again, I began to wear that red rose and have been doing so every day for the last 20 years.”
Prior to going back to school at a later age, she worked as a house cleaner. Harmon, who is a recent addition to the list of Honored Alumni at Cuesta College, first earned an associate’s degree in Childhood Education, then went on to finish her bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts at Cal Poly. She feels that Cuesta College has been instrumental in not only her education, but also for her two eldest children.
Harmon is proud to admit that she has worked very hard to get where she is today, and that work ethic contributes to both schooling and her personal life experiences. Living in San Luis Obispo for the last 25 years, and creating a family with her partner Larry, she now balances both a life of motherhood and politics.Cuestonian exclusive: Podcast with San Luis Obispo mayor Heidi Harmon
Harmon contributes climate change as the original inspiration to sparking her interest in being a politician. Stepping into the political limelight over 15 years ago and running for California Assembly in 2014 is partly where her government service journey all began. That spark led her to run for mayor of SLO in 2016, then being re-elected in 2018, and now she is seeking a third term in 2020.
Today Harmon sees herself as a person with experience, who started a grassroots campaign when she was first elected, and is still fighting for the rights of everyone who lives in San Luis Obispo.
That may sound like a lot of bodies to be responsible for, and it is: 47,446 to be exact.
“We have a real grassroots approach to what we are doing. We have a lot of small dollar donors like students and retirees. We don’t have a corporate attitude,” Harmon said. “I really am committed to people, planet and prosperity. Now more than ever those things are becoming more important to people.”
Harmon’s position as mayor comes with struggles and challenges, especially in the last six months. Harmon takes it on with integrity, passion and a belief system in establishing an equal democracy; not globally, but locally. She definitely has seen herself grow and change over her last two terms, both on a personal and political level.
Harmon pridefully admits to being interested in personal development, intellectual, emotional, psychological and spiritual growth. She sees herself as a role model to the community and follows the rule of showing them rather than telling people what they should be doing.
“It has been a great experience in that way, even though at times it was the hardest thing I have ever done,” Harmon said. “The last few months without question have been the toughest months of my life.”
Harmon takes her job very seriously, almost to the point of being over-protective, she admits, but not to a fault. Harmon is always taking on issues that are important to the community, stands up for those she truly believes in, and is not afraid to go against the grain in order to get her point across. Her progressive attitude is intimidating to some, but smooths over like butter on bread for those that support her grassroots philosophy.
“It is in those struggles that we do grow the most, that we do learn so much and we also find meaning in the struggle,” Harmon said. “It has pushed me to keep recommitting essentially to be my true essential self and that is a lot easier said than done.”
Unlike most politicians, Harmon is able to ground herself in her values and be her true authentic self. There are no smoke and mirrors when it comes to one of Cuesta College’s Honored Alumni. At the beginning of the interview, she emphasized that any student has the ability to be the mayor of San Luis Obispo. Harmon also attributed her education from Cuesta College as a big motivator in gearing her up for investing in the community’s future by pursuing a career as a local political figure.