Previously, he served in the California Legislature representing California's 7th State Senate district from 2008 to 2015. From 2006 to 2008, DeSaulnier represented California's 11th State Assembly district. He also served as a Contra Costa County supervisor (district 4, 1994–2006) and on the Concord City Council (1991–1994).
In March 2009, DeSaulnier announced his candidacy for the United States House of Representatives in the special election for the 10th congressional district after the resignation of the incumbent Ellen Tauscher. DeSaulnier received endorsements from Congresswoman Tauscher and Congressman George Miller for the seat. In the September 1 primary election, DeSaulnier came in second, after John Garamendi.
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, DeSaulnier was raised in a Roman Catholic family. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from the College of the Holy Cross. He traveled cross-country to California in the early 1970s and eventually settled in Concord. As a young man, DeSaulnier worked as a probation officer, a truck driver and a hotel services employee. DeSaulnier was a member of both the Teamsters International Union and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. His jobs allowed his early exposure to the challenges of working families and the power of organized labor to create equity among employers and employees. A small businessman, DeSaulnier owned and operated several restaurants in the greater Bay Area before taking office in the Legislature in 2006. He is a member of the Concord Chamber of Commerce and the Contra Costa Council. DeSaulnier lives in Concord where he raised his two adult sons, Tristan and Tucker. He is an avid runner and has completed twenty-one marathons.
DeSaulnier was appointed to the Concord Planning Commission in 1988. In 1991, he was elected to the Concord City Council and served as mayor of Concord in 1993. He was also a member of the University of California Toxic Substances Research and Teaching Program Advisory Committee.
In early 1994, Republican Governor Pete Wilson appointed DeSaulnier, then a fellow Republican, to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors district 4, filling a vacancy caused by the resignation of Supervisor Sunne McPeak. DeSaulnier served on the Board of Supervisors until 2006. He was elected in 1994 and re-elected in 1998 and 2002. In June 1998, he received 98.4 percent of the vote against write-in candidates. In March 2002, he retained his seat with 79 percent of the vote against challenger Dione Mustard.
Although the Board of Supervisors is a non-partisan office, DeSaulnier was active in Republican party affairs during much of his tenure as county supervisor. In September 1998, for example, he donated $200.00 to the United Republican Finance Committee of the Contra Costa County Republican Central Committee, thereby aiding Dan Lungren (R) in the gubernatorial race against Gray Davis (D), Matt Fong (R) in his U.S. Senate race against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), Charles Ball (R) in his congressional race against Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D), and Allen Payton (R) in his Assembly race against Assemblyman Tom Torlakson (D). Many of the candidates that DeSaulnier aided supported the anti-union Proposition 226 on the June 1998 statewide ballot.
During DeSaulnier's tenure on the Board of Supervisors, he sponsored the Industrial Safety Ordinance and the Refinery Flare Rule for local refineries and chemical facilities. DeSaulnier served on the executive boards of the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. He was appointed to represent the Bay Area on the California Air Resources Board by the Air District (1997–2006).
As a member of the Air Resources Board, DeSaulnier supported strong environmental regulations, including cleaner-burning gasoline, lower-emission vehicles (LEVs), the identification of diesel exhaust as a toxic air contaminant, dioxin monitoring in the Bay Area, the banning of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) in gasoline, the identification of secondhand smoke as a carcinogen, the reduction of emissions from dairy farms, the phase-out of rice straw in the central valley and the reduction of emissions from cruise ships.
On a county level, DeSaulnier introduced a Women's Health Program to serve the health-care needs of all women in Contra Costa County. He also established the annual Children and Families' Budget, a separate County budget that reviews and measures the effectiveness of County programs in these areas. His other projects for children include AfterSchool4All, the Future Fund and the Children and Families Committee of the Board of Supervisors.
The Contra Costa Times editorial board was critical of DeSaulnier's record as county supervisor. An editorial published in 2009 stated, "Many of the financial problems that afflict Contra Costa County today stem directly from decisions DeSaulnier championed while he was supervisor. Most notably, in 2002, at a time when the county faced a $31.5 million shortfall, was already laying off workers and was already experiencing increased public employee pension costs, DeSaulnier supported unsustainable pension increases that hiked benefits for public safety workers by as much as 50 percent. The plan allowed public safety workers to retire at age 50 with a pension worth 3 percent of their salary for each year served. Such excessive public employee union benefits have strained some local jurisdictions to the brink of bankruptcy."
In the June 2006 Democratic primary, DeSaulnier carried 52 percent of the vote against Laura Canciamilla and two other opponents. DeSaulnier was endorsed by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Contra Costa Times,
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and California Senator Tom Torlakson. DeSaulnier won a decisive victory in the 2006 general election against Republican Arne Simonsen and Libertarian Cory Nott with 66% of all votes cast.
In the Assembly, DeSaulnier chaired the Committee on Transportation and the Select Committees on Growth Management and Air Quality. He was also a member of the Assembly Committees on Appropriations, Human Services, Rules and Labor and Employment.
DeSaulnier authored or co-authored over 40 bills during the 2007–2008 legislative session. His bills addressed truancy among school children, preschool access, suicide prevention, childhood obesity, reducing air pollution, smoke-free workplaces, and the creation of opportunities for at-risk youth.
One bill introduced by DeSaulnier, AB 1617, would have restricted tobacco smokers from purchasing tobacco products via the internet. The bill was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Another DeSaulnier bill, AB 2235, which would require that a biometric feature be incorporated into all new handguns sold in California. For this, DeSaulnier received an F rating from the National Rifle Association.
For the Live Earth concert in July 2007, DeSaulnier delivered the Democratic weekly radio address on steps people can take to reduce their carbon footprint.
DeSaulnier was elected to the California State Senate in November 2008, representing the 7th Senate district which includes most of Contra Costa County. DeSaulnier received early support from the Contra Costa Central Labor Council, the Contra Costa Building Trades Council and the California League of Conservation Voters. He received 98% of the vote in the June 2008 Democratic primary election against write-in candidates; former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla initially was to challenge DeSaulnier for the Senate seat, but dropped out of the race. In the 2008 general election, DeSaulnier received 66.6% of the vote against Republican Christian Amsberry.
In the Senate, DeSaulnier is the chair of the Labor and Industrial Relations committee, and a member of the Health, Transportation and Housing, and Appropriations committees. He is also the chair of the select committees on Constitutional Reform and Growth Management.
DeSaulnier has authored over 20 bills that address the ability of workers to designate their treating physician prior to an injury, providing for greater prescription drug safety, supporting increased funding for alcohol-abuse programs, expanding electronic recycling and funding for climate protection. DeSaulnier also supports Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR)3 to propose to California voters the question of whether to call a convention to reform the state constitution.
In September 2009, DeSaulnier amended SB 88 to attempt to restrict the ability of local governments to shed pension programs through bankruptcy protection.
In 2012, DeSaulnier proposed a bill, SB1366, that would require gun owners whose guns are stolen or lost report the fact to police within 48 hours. Failure to comply would result in fines on the first and second offenses, with higher fines and possible jail on the third. The bill is endorsed by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the California Police Chiefs Association, and opposed by the California Rifle and Pistol Association. It is not known if that required reporting time of 48 Hrs is from the point of time of discovery, or the point of time when the actual crime allegedly occurred.
In November 2014, DeSaulnier was elected to represent California's 11th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives. As a result, DeSaulnier resigned his state senate seat in order to elevate to Congress.
In May 2016, DeSaulnier announced that in mid 2015 he was diagnosed with and successfully treated for a common form of leukemia, which is a blood cancer. In May 2016, it was announced the cancer was incurable and that DeSaulnier would still seek re-election in 2016.
In 2014 after George Miller announced his retirement, DeSaulnier announced his candidacy for California's 11th congressional district. He won the general election in a landslide victory. DeSaulnier took office on January 3, 2015.Committee on Education and the Workforce
Subcommittee on Workforce Protections
Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Subcommittee on Health Care, Benefits and Administrative Rules
Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets
Fellow, Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government Leadership Program and Symposium on Affordable Housing (2003). Speaker, Japanese Automotive Research Institute in Tokyo, Japan
Co-chair, World Fuel Cell Conference in Lucerne, Switzerland (2002).
Study tours: Participated in two transportation-land use study tours sponsored by the German Marshall Fund to promote trans-Atlantic dialogue around the issues of smart growth, regional planning, air pollution and transportation.