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(Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series. Click here to read Part 1.)
Only One Candidate Supports Green New Deal in Assembly District 1: Democrat Elizabeth Betancourt
Last year, Republican 1st District Assemblyman Brian Dahle won a special election for the 1st District State Senate seat vacated by Republican Ted Gaines. His wife Megan Dahle won a special election for his vacated AD-1 seat. Both seats are up for reelection this year, so now we’re doing it all over again, the primary and the general elections, with some new characters added to the cast.
Sen. Dahle, who maintains Trump was ordained by God, assembled a formidable donor base of special interests during his terms in the Assembly, comprised of prison, police and fire fighter unions; fossil fuel and pharmaceutical companies; the real estate and insurance industries and investor-owned utilities.
Megan Dahle has inherited support from many of those very same special interests.
These same special-interest groups have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to Democratic and Republican candidates across the state and have tremendous pull in the Legislature. They generally get what they want, as my friend and journalist colleague Dan Bacher has long reported.
For example, despite California’s green reputation, under Democratic Govs. Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom, oil and natural gas fracking have dramatically increased, onshore and offshore, contaminating the environment and exacerbating climate change.
Bacher reports that is due to the influence of the “Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in California [which] placed first in the annual lobbying competition in California in 2019 with $8.8 million spent on influencing the Governor’s office, legislators and other state officials, a position it captures most years.”
Such lavish spending by corporate special interests—Chevron has donated to both Dahles—more often than not gets results favorable to the donors.
The rest of us? Not so much.
While the Dahles don’t stoop to LaMalfa’s tragicomic level of climate denialism, neither Dahle has ever unequivocally stated in public that they agree with the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity, specifically the burning of fossil fuels, is causing the planet to heat up at an alarming rate that may lead to mass extinction if we don’t act boldly now.
In my opinion, it’s willful ignorance and dereliction of duty on behalf of public officials charged with promoting the general welfare, but that’s today’s Republican Party for you.
Returning to battle Megan Dahle for the AD-1 seat is Democratic candidate Elizabeth Betancourt, the Happy Valley farmer and watershed scientist. Like Denney, she has signed the Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal pledge. The movement’s emphasis is on creating millions of green jobs, and there are plenty to be created in AD-1 in the coming “restoration economy,” if our legislators will advocate for them.
Betancourt’s approach to the issue has been honed spending the past 20 years as a watershed scientist in northern California, communicating with farmers, ranchers, timber owners and state and local officials.
She knows her science, but also understands that climate change has become a highly politicized topic in conservative rural California, in no small part due to President Trump, virtually the entire Republican Congress, FOX News and right-wing talk radio hosts daily denouncing climate change as a giant hoax.
When Dahle was asked if she believed in the science behind climate change at the candidates forum sponsored by the Shasta County League of Women Voters last year, she agreed without elaboration that the “climate is changing,” which is Republican-speak for, “the weather changes, the seasons change.”
Like her husband, she’s been a no-show at this year’s candidate forums.
Last year, Betancourt deftly handled the climate change question.
“As a scientist and just a person in this world, I don’t know that climate change is something we believe or don’t believe, the science is real,” she answered. “More importantly, it doesn’t matter what you believe about climate change, the solutions we’re talking about are good for all of us.”
Some of those solutions are embodied in the California 2030 Natural and Working Lands Climate Change Implementation Plan, which proposes to do what the free market has failed to accomplish: Put people back to work in the woods and other forestry-related occupations in large enough numbers to mitigate the risk of living in the state’s fire hazard zones.
I asked Betancourt to imagine northern California 10 years from now, should the plan be fully implemented. Her response is worth reporting here at length and provides a glimpse of one possible future, should the Green New Deal become reality:
“What I see is: Exceedingly low unemployment, due to the majority of our working-age adults being employed in a variety of work environments: on-the-ground management activities in our forests and farms; technical applications in biomass energy facilities and on dispersed solar installations; economic strategizing and transportation planning on a local and regional level; and innovation hubs and think-tank centers where our best and brightest work with the resources we have to envision a productive and inclusive future.
“A network of small local farms provides produce, meat, and other food products in a local foodshed, building the local economy at the same time as building soil carbon, water retention capacity, and local expertise.
“California Native American Tribes are integrated into all that we do, and especially the work we do on natural spaces and in their heritage places.
“There may still be cars on the road, but I see big changes in vehicular travel along the lines of an expanded sharing economy combined with self-driving and electric vehicles capable of the long travel distances we have in AD-1—maybe powered by solar energy in route—so that emissions are avoided but individual direction and needs are still addressed.
“… Our communities provide not only places to live and work, but green spaces safe from wildfire and other catastrophes that provide places to play, clean air, cooling space for all, safety and security from wildfire and other natural disasters, and the aesthetics of a desirable community.
“We recognize all members of this community–all members, including a robust and complete ecology– as essential to getting the work done to make our community whole, safe, and ready for the future.”
The California 2030 Natural and Working Lands Climate Change Implementation Plan dovetails nicely with the tenets of the California Green New Deal, and Betancourt has vowed to ensure northern California doesn’t get left out of the prospective green rush.
On the other hand, the Green New Deal doesn’t appear to be on either of her opponents’ radar, Megan Dahle and Dr. P.K. “Paul” Dhanuka, the latter being the largely self-funded Redding physician who’s running in the AD-1 primary as an independent.
There’s no question that Dhanuka’s entry into the primary has shaken up the field, especially Megan Dahle’s campaign, which, much like her husband’s Assembly runs, has resorted to slinging mud at the popular Shasta County physician, perhaps because he has enough money to pose a real threat.
This appears to be backfiring for Dahle in a big way, and as it does so, both campaigns have fallen into a familiar trap in the AD-1 primary: They’re trying to out-conservative one another.
Dhanuka has described himself as “a strict feminist who believes in addressing climate change.” I’m not exactly sure what “strict feminist” means, but according to an interview with Carl Bott on Free Fire Radio, Dhanuka is personally pro-life, but believes women have a Constitutional right to privacy.
Yet he also calls himself a “constitutional conservative,” and folks of that persuasion generally think the right to privacy is a fiction dreamed up by the then-liberal U.S. Supreme Court.
When it comes to climate change, at least Dhanuka is apparently not a denier. But climate change isn’t mentioned once on his campaign’s website, let alone the Green New Deal.
On his Facebook page, Dhanuka recently dinged Brian Dahle for voting for Democratic legislation, including AB 1471, the Water Quality and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014, which led to the Klamath Dam removal project, because it will “destroy our dams.”
That’s not going to please the Tribes and enviros, to say the least.
Dhanuka has called Megan Dahle a RINO, a “Republican in Name Only,” an acronym generally hurled by Republicans at fellow party members they don’t consider conservative enough.
The public safety unions supporting Dahle have responded with a vicious series of radio ads implying Dhanuka committed Medicare fraud (he did not) and doesn’t vote in elections (he does).
As Dhanuka and Dahle tack ever further right, that could open the door for Betancourt, who has spent $56,000 since Jan. 1, compared to Dhanuka’s $372,000 and Dahle’s $377,000, according the Secretary of State’s Cal-Access website.
Betancourt is used to running on a shoestring and still has her ground game intact after being defeated by Dahle in last year’s special election 58 percent to 42 percent. While that’s a daunting divide, it was the best performance by a Democratic candidate in a November election in 40 years.
Throw in the fact this is a Democratic Presidential Primary, with front-running Bernie Sanders embracing the Green New Deal and inspiring millions of young people to vote across the country, and she has a better-than-even chance of finishing in the top two.
She’s the only candidate who has the will and the skill set for the task at hand: implementing the Green New Deal in Northern California.
State Senate District 1: Socialism for the Rich, Rugged Individualism for the Poor
Republican Sen. Brian Dahle will undoubtedly finish first in the primary for State Senate District 1 and will most likely win in the general election. His two opponents, independent retired schoolteacher Linda Kelleher from Penn Valley and Democrat Pamela Dawn Swartz, a small business owner from Nevada City, have virtually zero money to campaign with compared to the massive funding Dahle receives from private donors and corporate and public safety union special interests.
Both Swartz and Kelleher believe climate change is real and embrace some elements of the Green New Deal such as reducing income inequality and providing single-payer healthcare.
“Climate change is real, and it’s happening before our eyes,” Swartz states on her campaign’s Facebook page. “We need bold action now to address this global crisis. The great news is that in the North State, we have a top-notch answer to addressing climate change, threat of fire, and water sustainability, right in our own back yard!”
Swartz is referring to small 3 MW biomass generation stations, one possible solution for rural communities in fire prone areas that are struggling to dispose of forest debris.
On Kellher’s Facebook page, the candidate says she’s a fundamentalist Constitutionalist and calls the Framers the “OG socialists.” She’s running as an Independent because she believes the state Democratic Party has give up on SD-1. Here’s her take, which has been lightly edited:
“The reason Democrats cannot win in the north state is due to the idea that the north state is a Republican stronghold. It’s not worth the political capital to support state or federal candidates here,” she says. “It’s the reason LaMalfa and the Dahles can represent their economic interests at the expense of their taxpaying constituents’ general welfare. They don’t want to change a thing. They want to continue their legacy to profit off our natural resources. Because of that economic policy, many rural citizens live in Appalachian poverty, like in Bieber, the Dahles’ hometown. But the Democrats are so busy focusing on maintaining their partisan control they don’t pay attention to these isolated, ignored citizens.”
I’m sure that’s a sentiment shared by many of SD-1’s citizens. Special interests continue to get their way, while much of the North State goes begging. A recent case in point: The Trump administration’s proposed changes to water deliveries from northern California to southern California via the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.
The changes are highly favorable to the corporate agribusinesses in the infamous Westlands Water District, and for good reason: Before Interior Secretary David Bernhardt took up his present position, he was a longtime Westlands lobbyist.
LaMalfa applauded the changes, echoing the common Republican fallacy—oft repeated by the Dahles—that we’re wasting billions of gallons of water by allowing the Sacramento River to flow into the ocean. It’s difficult to see how what Winnemem Wintu Tribe Chief Caleen Sisk calls the “Trump salmon extinction plan” is inherently good for the north state. Fortunately, Gov. Gavin Newsom and California have sued to stop implementation of the plan.
For his part, Sen. Dahle hit the ground running after taking over his new office last June, in part because constituents who’ve received “the letter” from their insurance companies are burning up the phone lines to his office. In October, Dahle fired off a letter to state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara calling for a moratorium on fire insurance rate increases.
“Our constituents have no electricity, are choking on smoke, and then go to their mailbox and receive a notice that their homeowners insurance will be cancelled. This has to stop. I’m calling upon the Insurance Commissioner to immediately put a moratorium on any further homeowner insurance policy cancellations,” Dahle said.
Lara did enact a one-year moratorium preventing insurance companies from cancelling the policies of homeowners in areas where recent megafires have occurred. But Yuba County Supervisor and insurance agent Randy Fletcher told the Sacramento Bee that it’s only a temporary fix.
“They’re telling me, show me proof it’s safer and profitable to write in the forests,” said Fletcher, whose district bore the brunt of the 2017 Cascade Fire. “The solution isn’t from the insurance commissioner putting a one-year band-aid (on the problem).”
Dahle was also successful in clawing $1 billion for forest fuel removal from the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund in 2018, to be dispersed in 4 annual $250 million increments. Some of those funds have been made available to Fire Safe Councils across the state. But if a rural community doesn’t already have a Fire Safe Council, there’s a large lag time before those funds can be accessed. The Whitmore Fire Safe Council formed in late 2017 and is awaiting its first potential state grant this April.
Yet Dahle voted against extending the state’s Cap-and-Trade carbon sequestration program that funds the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which he has called a “slush fund” for special interests.
Iles, the Farmers’ Insurance agent from Palo Cedro who recently spoke before the Whitmore Fire Safe Council, proposed that the state restructure the California Fair Plan, transforming it into a reinsurer for insurance companies, spreading the risk across multiple insurers so that no one goes without without coverage. Defensible space regulations will have to be strictly enforced to bring down the risk.
There’s a lot of work to be done, and as rugged as many of the individuals who live in Whitmore are, a frequent refrain heard at Fire Safe Council meetings is that there’s no way that Whitmore as a community can handle it all. Iles suggests that we tap the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to subsidize the work.
Think of it as just one phase of the Green New Deal that’s coming. Making rural communities firesafe and restoring California’s forests to resiliency is an enormous undertaking that will cost billions of dollars over the next 10 years. It’s beyond the scope of the timber and forest products industry, because there’s no significant market—yet—for forest slash and debris. Without massive public investment, we could lose our forests and our rural way of life by the end of the century.
The best way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to vote for candidates that support the Green New Deal in the March 3 California Presidential Primary.