Capitol Alert

Get to know a freshman: James Wood

James Wood is the type of politician who will look you right in the mouth.

While the Democrat from Healdsburg calls his decision to become a dentist a matter of public service, linking his interest in medicine to “a lifelong passion for wanting to serve people,” he acknowledged his path to the state Assembly was an unlikely one.

“You don’t go to dental school to become a state legislator,” Wood, 54, said.

His career has unfolded not just in dental offices but in disaster sites, from New York’s Ground Zero to post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, where Wood has been dispatched to ply his unusual skill of being able to identify remains by examining teeth.

“Some people say it’s a gruesome thing, but for me, it’s an extension of public service,” Wood said. “I find it intriguing, I find it challenging and I also find it rewarding to know I’ll be able to tell somebody yes or no this is or isn’t the person.”

Even as he assumes the work of Sacramento, Wood has continued to serve as a forensic dental consultant. He hopes his new job won’t conflict, saying he plans to ask Assembly leadership for permission to leave if he is called to the scene of an accident or a disaster.

Whether or not that day arrives, Wood’s background has already attracted interest from his new colleagues.

“I do have colleagues who ask about, ‘I’ve got a dental issue, or what do you think of this?’ Or, ‘I’ve had some work done, what do you think, does it look OK?’” Wood said. “I get lots of questions.”

VIDEO: Watch Wood talk about his work as a forensic dentistry expert.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.