It’s hard to get more Kern County than Phillip Peters, the newly-elected chairman of the Board of Supervisors. The great-grandson of Okies who moved to California to search for a better life, his family has been working in Kern’s two staple industries — oil and agriculture — ever since. Now, at 33 years old, Peters hopes to become known as the guy who can just “get stuff done” for the county he calls home.
“I never worked for a political entity, or a campaign group or a lobbying group, in any capacity before this. I used to work in the oil fields and work on my family’s ranch, and work on our farm,” Peters said. “So having that first hand experience in all the things that drive Kern County, it really helps me understand those issues from the ground up.”
Although he is the newest member of the Board of Supervisors, Peters has been involved in politics for quite some time.
He credits his political awakening to a Theodore Roosevelt biography his friend gave him for his birthday in his early 20s. Peters remembers being instantly connected to the man, so much so that he collects first-edition books written by the former president.
“He was a rancher and a hunter, and he got into politics, and that’s all right up my alley,” Peters said. “He said we should be more afraid of rusting out than wearing out. For whatever success I’ve had politically, I think that’s been the big driving factor, just not being afraid to say ‘yes,’ and being the guy that gets in and does stuff.”
He started his political journey by volunteering with the Kern County Young Republicans, becoming chairman about six months after his first meeting. His first elected office came as the Area 4 representative on the Kern High School District board.
Four years later, when the decision on whether he should defend his seat came to the forefront, Peters decided not to seek the same office again. Instead, he looked to make an impact on the issues that were affecting Kern County as a whole.
He became a field representative for then-Supervisor Mick Gleason, who he would eventually succeed when Gleason retired in 2020.
Gleason said he learned to trust Peters’ political instincts and would bounce ideas off his staffer even when the two disagreed. The pair were eventually nicknamed Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, after the two players from Gleason’s home state football team, the New England Patriots.
“He grew into his own person that I began to respect and admire,” Gleason said, noting his eventual endorsement of Peters for supervisor was not intended from the beginning. “It wasn’t pre-planned or staged or any of that kind of stuff. I just trusted him. I trusted him almost immediately and that trust began to grow when I heard him speak, when I asked him to do things.”
To pursue politics, Peters gave up a lucrative oil job, one that would likely have paid the bills and then some. While it appears to have turned out well now, it wasn’t always obvious that he had made the right decision in the beginning.
“He was making really good money, and he just felt so strongly about politics that he left his high-paying job, and got involved, and was making pennies forever just trying to make the politics thing work,” said his brother Joe Peters. “I think that’s a real testament to his love for it.”
As in politics, Peters also takes cues from Roosevelt when it comes to his personal health. An avid outdoorsman, Peters is not content to merely hike when he journeys into nature. He participates in an activity known as rucking, which takes its name from the rucksacks carried by military personnel on long marches.
Loading his hunting pack “a lot of weight,” Peters says he goes on a three- to four-mile hikes in the Kern County foothills about once a week. And when he has a little extra time on his hands, he goes hunting, continuing a tradition he learned from his father.
“It’s really fulfilling to me when you go out and you work your butt off to find an animal and you harvest that animal, and then you butcher it and that’s what you’re eating,” he said. “It comes straight from nature. You’ve been one-on-one and it really brings that connection to what you’re eating and what you’re putting in your body back home.”
Still, it’s at his job where Peters hopes to have the largest impact. He now finds himself in the novel position of being asked to speak at events. The biggest surprise of being a supervisor, he said, is “how many people care what I think.”
But when asked for what advice he would give to any in the younger generation interested in getting into politics, he didn’t hesitate. He encouraged younger people to just get involved and become known as a person who can get stuff done.
“I definitely never imagined that this is what I would be doing,” he said, “but it’s the willingness to say yes, and the genuine desire to get involved that people notice, and it will go a long way.”