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“What this crisis has shown us is that every single person needs health care.” — Audrey Denney
Congressional candidate Audrey Denney was recently interviewed for a new series on YouTube called The MC, produced by Shasta County Democrats. Moderated by Ed McCarthy, Denney was questioned about the implications of the Covid-19 Pandemic for California’s North State residents. Denney, who is running for California’s Congressional District 1 for the second time, talked about what her campaign is doing to provide support to the community, the impact on her friends and colleagues in retail, food service, and agriculture, and her assessment of the role of Congress in helping cities, counties, and rural health care.
The interview, on the subject of Covid-19, is the first in a 3-part interview series with Audrey Denney airing this week. Two additional in-depth interviews with Candidate Audrey Denney on the subjects of health care and the economy, can be found on the Shasta Dems YouTube Channel.
Denney described recent disasters in the region that she had responded to as a volunteer, but that the pandemic “looks a lot different.” Following the Carr Fire, the Camp Fire, and the Oroville Dam Crisis, she said, the path was more obvious. “We know what to do in that kind of crisis: making sure people have housing, plug them into other people’s homes, gather resources and deliver them to the most vulnerable, work at shelters.” This time, she said, it felt like the only thing you could do to help out was to stay at home. Her team quickly began brainstorming alternate ways they could help support those most impacted by the shut down.
“Coming from an agriculture background, food security has always been one of the things I’ve been most passionate about, and it felt like a really logical thing to help folks support the local food bank.” She acknowledges the big role government has to play right now, but said, “in times of crisis, it’s so important for our community members to show up for each other, to lift up and protect the most vulnerable.” She said it is challenging right now for organizations to find volunteers that are healthy, safe and able to work to help marginalized residents have access to food, and to “ensure there is a supply chain for local farmers to get produce where it needs to be.”
Denney has directed her online supporters to local food banks, and urged people who still have jobs to “kick some money to your food bank, or donate to the North Valley Community Foundation or the Shasta Regional Community Foundation.”
As an expert on the beef industry, Denney spoke about the ripple effect of recent shutdowns at major packing plants around the country. “It means there’s way less beef available, but also means the farmers and ranchers and stockmen can’t sell their beef, so beef prices are in the tank, which affects grain prices.” Admitting that she could “nerd out about ag,” Denney has been researching the implications of the pandemic across many areas of food production. She compared what’s happening to the region’s commodity and specialty crops, like almonds, walnuts, rice, hay and strawberry plants, to crops in other parts of California, like the Salinas Valley, which provides fresh produce to the whole country. “They’re letting lettuce rot in the fields, because it’s more expensive to pick it and get it out and sell it,” she said.
Many of Denney’s good friends work in retail, or the food and beverage industry, and she has watched as they were all let go, with at least half of them still waiting for unemployment payments. “It’s a month without income for a lot of my good friends. That community is really on my heart right now.”
The Denney campaign recently started the “Covid-19 Community Check-in Program,” a non-partisan effort to call residents in every county in CD1, to hear about their current experience, and direct them to needed resources.
The goal of the Community Check-In Program, she said, is simple: “To bring people comfort, hope, and remind them that we are all in this together.” Her team practices a technique called Deep Listening, which lets respondents guide the conversation. “We want nothing more than to hear from people, to know that they’re alright, and to let them know that we are all here for each other throughout, and after, this crisis.” She said she prefers not to refer to “social distancing,” but instead “physical distancing,” because social interaction is important “for us to feel like we’re part of the community, and are connected.”
Denney and her volunteers have enjoyed talking with citizens, regardless of party affiliation. “Instead of making campaign calls we’ve been using that platform,” she said, of the Check-In Program. “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from folks that they’ve had pretty special and meaningful conversations, and that we’ve been able to connect people to resources.” Her campaign also lists county-specific links on their website, as well as national information on the spread of Covid-19.
Denney said she was proud of California’s response in handling this crisis, and how early restrictions helped keep down the spread in the North State.
But turning to the role of Congress in the epidemic, Denney gave a searing response to rival Doug LaMalfa’s claim that Democrats were “holding small business owners hostage” during recent negotiations for a relief package. Democrats had pushed for additional funding for small businesses, but also insisted on funding for cities, counties, hospitals, and expanded testing. On his official website, LaMalfa conflates the push for additional funding for municipalities and hospitals as a ploy. “Using this crisis as a way to push their liberal policy priorities is unconscionable,” he stated.
Denney did not hold back her resentment of the claim. “Do you mind if I get a little bit angry?” she asked, rhetorically. “At the very very minimum, what this crisis has shown us is that every single person needs health care.” She said LaMalfa was “actively trying to decrease support for rural hospitals,” many which were already operating on razor thin profit margins, and added, “it’s not the first time he’s done this.”
Denney pointed to the outsized impact the downturn is having on two small counties in CA Congressional District 1: Lassen and Sierra. Both have a low tax base, because a majority of their land is owned either by the Federal or State government. “The fact that our congressman won’t support his local counties by making sure that they have backfills of funds they need, when already low budgets are getting kicked even lower as a result of this crisis, is ‘unconscionable,’ to use that word,” she said.
Because of shrinking resources, and mandates restricting how funds can be spent, she warned there won’t be enough resources to “provide public safety, provide behavior and mental health services, and to provide all those critical services that our counties need.”
LaMalfa’s reluctance to support broader relief programs, she said, is “another example of how our congressman either doesn’t know how to take care of the people in his district, or doesn’t care to.” She singled out Republican lawmakers’ connections to deep pocket political supporters as a corrupting influence. “While our Congressman will continue to vote in the interest of Big Oil, he won’t vote in the interest of the people in his district. That is the level of corruption that it’s my generation’s job to weed out.”
Recent fundraising figures highlight LaMalfa’s reliance on a few large donors, compared with Denney’s small donor base. According to the most recent reporting period for the 2020 election, Denney has already surpassed $1 million in fundraising for the election, and in the last reporting period out-raised her opponent by $215,000. Denney had nearly 20,000 individual contributions, accounting for 95.9% of total funds raised. Only 20% of Rep. LaMalfa’s donors are individuals, with the rest coming from PACs, GOP Party transfers, and out-of-district fundraising.
Denney believes the Covid-19 crisis starkly illustrates the disparity between two approaches to governing: “At this moment in history the Democratic Leadership in Washington, DC is the party that cares about real people, and is working for real people. And at this point in history, the Republican Party and their Leadership in Washington, DC, cares about the profits of the industries and the corporations that are keeping them in their jobs.”
Denney threw down a challenge to voters, saying that until the country elects “a generation of leadership that wants to be true public servants, and wants to fight for and work for real people,” the country won’t see meaningful and lasting change. As for her opponent, she said, “All he is doing is regurgitating the talking points of the leadership of the GOP. And I am mad as hell, and so I’m going to take his job! How does that sound?!” It sounds pretty scrappy, which is a quality that may be a key to survival in these challenging times, whether applied to personal health, or to politics.
ProTip: While viewing the first Audrey Denney interview on The MC, start looking for her kitten, Harper, at the 10-minute mark.