The Democrats of Shasta County launched a new interview series on YouTube called “The MC.” The first interview, taped on April 4, and moderated by Ed McCarthy, featured Elizabeth Betancourt, candidate for California Assembly District 1.
Betancourt and McCarthy talked about local challenges and issues around the COVID-19 pandemic, and began by emphasizing the importance of abiding by the shelter in place order. “We definitely want to protect each other, and the more vulnerable population, but it’s also important to protect our hospital and healthcare workers, as well. We have a couple of nurses in our family, and they are definitely stressed,” she said. McCarthy, who works from his home for an international engineering firm, emphasized the need for non-essential people to stay sheltered, saying, “I don’t want to go out, and be one of these folks who gets infected and doesn’t know it for 2 weeks, and then passes it from person to person.”
Betancourt spoke about the statewide lockdown that has helped slow the increase of the virus in California. “I am extremely proud of being a Californian,” she said, adding she is pleased with Governor Newsom’s response. “I appreciate his proaction in addressing it as soon as he did.”
For educators in rural California, it has sometimes been a rocky transition. “Certainly there are things that we could do better,” Betancourt said, “like making sure that our schools have the capacity to teach distance learning.” She said it might ordinarily take years to implement a plan for every school to be equipped for distance learning. To prepare for that, she said, could “easily have been a 10-year plan.” Instead, she notes, “our teachers have had to do that with just days to go.”
One of the impediments to rolling out distance learning and working from home in a rural region like the North State is the lack of broadband internet access. “One of the things that has been infinitely clear with this experience, is that the inequities in broadband availability are huge,” she said. “Just having access or not to broadband can determine how you participate in the school year from here on out, and how your experience of school is in the next year, and the year after that.”
Betancourt noted that Governor Newsom had established a partnership with Google to provide broadband internet access for many rural areas through the end of the school year, but, she asked, “What happens when that is over? All of a sudden they don’t have internet anymore and are no longer participating in our modern economy, or linked to a way to find jobs, to apply to schools, to continue their education.” Those inequities are now in sharper relief, but she thinks this could present an opportunity to correct them. “There are a lot of things we must do better permanently, not just in response to Covid-19.”
She complemented the California Democratic Legislature, which she hopes to join, for taking action to not only protect the state in the short term, but thinking about how to handle the longer term consequences. “Our state is one of the ones that’s done the most to address the Covid-19 crisis and the coming recession,” she said. California was one of the first to establish the prohibition on evictions during the crisis. They also took action to ensure that the state share of Unemployment Insurance was filled, so it would be available to laid off workers. Betancourt is a Senior Environmental Scientist with the Central Valley Water Board, and from the standpoint of a state employee, she said “they have been thoughtful about how state employees are treated, and do their work, and that we need to be working from home.” And because California schools are funded based on attendance, “the legislature knew right away that with schools closing, they were going to need to make sure that that gap got filled immediately.”
Despite the anxiety the COVID-19 crisis is causing for everyone, she said, there are a few bright spots. Among her conversations with people from different North State industries over the past few weeks, she has been heartened by examples of people really looking out for others. She spoke with Black Bear Diner founder Bruce Dean about the possibility that 30% of all restaurants won’t make it as a result of the outbreak and financial downturn. Despite that dire outlook, she said Dean was urging people to patronize the take-out services of any local restaurants they care about, and not specifically his.
She noted that the Denny Bar in Etna had turned their facility from distilling alcohol to producing hand sanitizer, which she applauded. “Increasing our reliance on our neighbors, increasing the number of times I check in on people I care about,” and a decrease in the use of fossil fuels were all cited as positive effects.
One activity she encourages people to participate in while under the stay at home order is the Census, which she said is critical for resource allocation in the future. “We already don’t have great participation in the Census in rural communities” she said, “and the folks who go door to door to recruit participation in the census can’t do that right now. That’s really potentially going to hurt our representation as the count moves forward.” It took only about 4 minutes to fill out her form, she said. You can complete it online, here: https://census.ca.gov
As for her candidacy, she said the campaign will continue to connect with people by phone and online, to “make sure people remember that Democrats are leading on the policy front.”
If elected, Betancourt will focus on what she sees as important for Assembly District 1, including making sure educational institutions are fully funded, and that efforts designed to build the rural economy get help where they need it. That includes support for “resilient forests, renewable energy, and innovations in computers and battery storage.” Many of those things are already happening in the North State, she said, but need help to make them better. “Recessions are really a test of what we as a society see as valuable,” she said. “Sometimes we just need a little bit of seed money,” to provide jobs, help build the local economy, “and reduce the need for public support in future.”
Betancourt said that local industries represent “the building blocks of society,” and she wants to be sure they have what they need. “Once we make sure everybody is safe and healthy and has what they need, we can build from there, and help our region to flourish.” She believes that a Democrat in the Assembly would help ensure that kind of support. “We need to vote for Democrats if we’re going to get good representation and resources back to our region.”
Betancourt’s Facebook page frequently posts links to state and regional resources, numbers of infection rates, medical equipment needs, and, she said, tries to “remind people to be nice.” Her faith community at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Redding has a brand new minister who has risen to the challenge of the crisis, she said. His sermons are available on line, and the congregation shares Coffee Hour on Zoom on Sundays. “I am in the ‘Faith in Action’ kind of group,” she said, which means “doing good for folks, to the extent that you can.” Betancourt and her husband have a small farm, and have make food available to people who need it. “We all live in one world, and what goes around comes around. That’s really the way my faith is guiding my actions in this particular crisis.”
Jenny Abbe is the director of the James Abbe Archive at www.jamesabbe.com, and a member of the Democratic Central Committee of Shasta County. She is currently a volunteer courier for the Redding Fashion Alliance’s mask-making group.