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The Supervisor Talks Back: District 3’s Mary Rickert on the Recall Movement and Rural Life

The following Q&A is a transcript from the Saturday, July 17 episode of Common Ground Radio, co-hosted by Christian Gardenier and R.V. Scheide. (Tune in 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays to KCNR 96.5 FM/1460AM.) This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

With degrees in agriculture, business and psychology, Shasta County District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert brings a formidable skillset to the position. After five years on the job, she’s shown she has what it takes to fulfill her duties as supervisor.

So why has this hard-working conservative Republican supervisor been targeted for recall by Red White & Blueprint, Recall Shasta and a rag-tag band of what can only be called right-wing neofascists hell-bent on ousting three democratically elected representatives from county government?

To explain that we first have to talk about the Big Lie. First elucidated by Adolf Hitler in “Mein Kampf” then carried out by his minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels when the Nazis came to power in the 1930s, the Big Lie is one of the most important instruments in the would-be fascist’s toolkit. The bigger the lie the better, the more often it is told the better yet.

Here in the United States, former President Donald Trump has employed the Big Lie to claim, with zero evidence, that he won the 2020 presidential election, not current President Joe Biden. It’s a brazen attempt by Trump to keep his base frothing at the mouth in order to slither back into the oval office, if not this August, then in 2024.

Here in Shasta County, the recall movement leaders are authoritarians to the core. They don’t believe in law and order, democracy, science or modern medicine. You don’t like it? Hit the road, Jack. What is the recall movement’s Big Lie? They claim that supervisors Rickert, District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty and District 1 Joe Chimenti caved to the tyrannical whims of Gov. Gavin Newsom during the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore betrayed their constituents.

The recallers also claim, with zero evidence, that the three supervisors have been fiscally irresponsible.

This is all totally false. In fact, as readers are about to find out, Rickert, Moty and Chimenti were instrumental in convincing state officials to grant Shasta County leniency during the pandemic, permitting the county to remain in the red tier, even though it was well into the purple tier at the time.

As supervisor Rickert said to the Redding Record Searchlight after State HHS Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly made the decision to place us in the red tier last October:

“Be assured that Supervisor Moty and I really did press the secretary hard in terms of Shasta County keeping their numbers down and that we have certain factions of the population that want to open. We are open to the maximum amount to the extent we can be in California.”

In other words, the exact opposite of what the recall movement claims.

R.V. Scheide: Supervisor Rickert, welcome to Common Ground Radio.

Mary Rickert: Thank you for having me, I appreciate it.

R.V.: I know in addition to being a supervisor, you and your husband live in McArthur, own and operate Western Agricultural Services and are principals in Prather Ranch. When we were talking recently you mentioned fire issues on some of your northern properties and I wondered if you could give us an update. How are you doing so far this fire season?

M.R.: Yes, we just experienced the loss of about 500 acres on our Prather Ranch headquarters in Siskiyou County. This particular field we’d planned on holding for fall feed. For most of us that are in the cattle ranching business or in farming in general, this year, this drought is an extremely severe drought. We are just now beginning to see the impacts of it, but I think by September, October, we’re going to really be suffering.

One thing I think I could spend your entire show talking about is my concerns about the food supply. People need to seriously realize that there’s a shortage of water in California, and we are a major food producer. I was on a meeting with the Northern California Water Association Board last year—I serve on that board, representing Shasta County—and there were several farmers and district managers that shared stories of the shortage of water. Their pumps are not running efficiently, and it takes twice as much water to irrigate crops such as tomatoes and sunflowers, and it takes twice as long. We’re in serious dire straits in California.

R.V.: Do we know what sort of agricultural decline we might be looking at?

M.R.: No one knows how the impact is going to play out. We don’t know how many wells are going to go dry. And we don’t know what next year brings. That’s the thing. People don’t realize when you’re in farming and ranching, you’re extremely dependent on Mother Nature, and you’re extremely dependent on variations in the weather patterns. It’s pretty much a gamble.

I know often times I get accused of being a “socialist” and a whatever and a whatever, but the fact of the matter is you couldn’t find more strong capitalists in Shasta County than my husband and me. We’ve been in the private sector our entire lives, and if anybody deals with regulations, we do as agriculturalists. We’re tied to the land. … It’s a tough year and it’s just beginning. We’re really going to see a lot of bad things happening.

R.V.: Let’s switch to a cheerier subject: the recall.

M.R.: Oh, sure. (Chuckles) I think everybody has the opportunity to express their opinions. I fully support that. But personally, I feel it’s a waste of money, $640,000 that we could use in a lot of different areas, especially another fire engine, or hire a few more deputies, that kind of thing. We all have our wish lists.

District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert goes off on District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh earlier this year.

R.V.: Here’s something that’s on my wish list and you actually got to do it recently in a board meeting. You got to tell District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh that you were tired of his BS. I’m pretty sure the audience cheered you on. How did that feel? What’s it like working with a supervisor who apparently doesn’t believe in medical science during a global pandemic?

M.R.: It’s been challenging. I apologize, I don’t normally talk like that. I was talking to some of my siblings, I just had a birthday a couple of days ago (she’s 69) and we all got together on a Zoom meeting. They were discussing about a time when I was 4 or 5 years old, and I got stuck out in the corrals with my shoes and muddy manure. I did share with them my story [about Baugh], and I said, ‘You know what, if anybody’s qualified to use that word, it would be me. I am totally familiar with what it looks like, what it smells like.’

I had a real problem with several statements Mr. Baugh gave that day. I didn’t understand when he said [that Bosenko was afraid of Leonard Moty]. When we had the Hat Fire at Fall River Mills, which was during the Carr Fire, we had Glenburg Road closed. The county had a boundary for not going in, but people were going in anyway because there was no law enforcement stopping them.

We had our power out for several days and our water troughs were dry. We had 100 pair, which means we had 100 cows and 100 calves, and they didn’t have any water. All we did was go in and open up a gate so they’d have access to the Fall River to get water. Which is the appropriate thing to do. You don’t want cattle without water breaking down fences and running amuck, so to speak.

I called [then sheriff] Tom Bosenko and asked him, ‘The fire’s been out for 24 hours, and people are going into their homes to put gasoline in their generators.’ He just blew up at me and said, ‘If I was up there I’d cite those people and throw them in jail.’

So it just seem incongruent when Les Baugh was reading [Bosenko’s] statement [that claimed Baugh was afraid of the all-powerful Supervisor Moty, who broke the rules to fill up his generator]. It was a totally different story. That wasn’t the first time [Bosenko] had blown up on me over things like that. So basically, I don’t understand that, that was one of the reasons I had such a strong reaction.

Christian Gardenier: You didn’t do anything wrong. We’ve got what I call RWBM, the militia State of Jefferson recall movement, and it’s just making a mockery of [decorum at board of supervisor meetings]. Uncivil, vile, disgusting, sordid potty-mouthed second-grader behavior—directed directly at you at times. Are we living in the United States of America? … Is there a problem here? Are these people safe? Do they need some help? Are they hurting?

M.R.: Self-awareness is really important, and we all need to be self-aware. I wish there weren’t so much anger and I wish we could have constructive dialogue with each other. I did try to communicate with several people at different times, and often times they’d come back and use what I’d emailed to them and twist the words. I really think in lots of ways we [the three supervisors] have been dehumanized, and I find that unfortunate.

Our positions as supervisors, we’re nonpartisan. I don’t look at us as Republicans or Democrats or Independents or whatever. I look at it as all the residents of Shasta County, and the decisions I make are for the greater good. I’m not going to please everybody; it’s impossible to please everybody.

C.G.: The board of supervisors has been so tolerant in trying to be polite and civil as possible during this onslaught of ridiculousness.

MR: I’m a Catholic. I take my spirituality very seriously. I pray every day I go into the board meetings that the holy spirit guides me. One thing that is difficult for me and I will admit is that some people come in and quote scripture to us. All I can think of is, what did Jesus preach? He preached love, forgiveness and peace. And what did Jesus do? He healed the sick and he raised the dead. He wants us to be healthy. That’s my message. That’s the way I see it, from my scriptural readings that I do on a daily basis. That’s what I see. I will continue to follow the path of what my interpretation of what Jesus wants us to do.

District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones and canon, from “Red,White and Blueprint” docu-series.

R.V.: When he was campaigning for District 4 Supervisor last year, Patrick Jones said that Shasta County could remove itself from the state tier system, and if the state retaliated by withholding funds from us, we could just withhold property and sales taxes from the state, which, as the Record Searchlight pointed out, is not how local government works. I’ve heard from several people who’ve worked with Jones who say he doesn’t know how government works. What’s your opinion about that?

M.R.: If anybody listened to the last board meeting … [Jones] had voted ‘no’ on funding of Restpadd. I was on the committee to get [Restpadd] established many years ago, and I pointed that out to him [Jones] that I had a history and an understanding as to what services they provide and how imperative it is that we have a local facility for people.

When a person has their family close by, they’re going to stabilize sooner, and then it saves money. That’s the key component here that I don’t think he [Jones] understands. These programs are so important to implement and continue to develop and expand because the more people that get treatment, the more money the county saves.

There’s an older figure that Kristin Schreder shared with me a few years ago. Someone did a study and it costs the taxpayers roughly $64,000 for a person that’s homeless on the street. I think it’s more now. So, if we could get people stabilized and in treatment, that’s going to save the county a lot of money; plus it’s the humane thing to do. To me, there’s absolutely no argument to not vote in favor of these programs.

C.G.: I think this group, the radicalized right, is more concerned about being cruel. They might even say ‘We have to be cruel because we love you.’ I think that’s malarkey. No, we don’t need to beat our kids with more belts, we don’t need to do any of that stuff. We need to be compassionate—and as you pointed out, we’re going to save money. And restore lives and maybe start breaking that cycle.

M.R.: Exactly. As you and I know, ACEs, Adverse Childhood Experiences, are a huge issue in Shasta County. Our ACEs scores are off the charts. How do we mitigate the impact from that problem in our county? We work with people, and we basically try to break the cycle.

CG: We don’t close the programs down, lay off all the staff and put the people out on the street.

MR: Exactly. That’s going to exacerbate the problem. It’s going to make it much worse. You can find study after study that will back that concept. You cannot basically reject these programs without having consequences.

R.V. These issues have been going on for so long. How close are we to actually dealing with the problem?

M.R.: I wish I could spend more time on it! … Ignoring and rejecting these programs is not the answer. It’s been proven over and over again that it does not work.

Supervisor Rickert says District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty’s statewide connections gave Shasta County and edge during the pandemic.

R.V.: I wanted to talk about two facets dealing with the pandemic. What was it like for you and District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti and District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty negotiating with the state? Then, how did you work with Dr. Karen Ramstrom and Shasta County Public Health?

M.R.: I think we had a good, fairly coordinated effort. Leonard Moty is on CSAC, the California State Association of Counties, and he’s very highly regarded. He’s very well-connected in Sacramento and has the respect of many people down there. I’ve served on a state board and I know a lot of people in Sacramento myself. Leonard is very highly regarded and he’s one of our best assets as a supervisor, he has those connections.

As you mentioned earlier, he was able to keep us in the red tier when technically we should have been in the purple tier. Not every supervisor could pull that off. So instead of these attacks, people should be thanking him [Moty].

Quite honestly, we were very clear working with Karen [Dr. Ramstrom] that we wanted to educate the public, that we weren’t there to punish. We wanted to educate businesses so that they understood what steps they needed to take to keep people healthy and safe as much as possible.

Last December, we had an outbreak in the administration building where basically most people had to work from home because we had so many cases. It started after Halloween then went into November then December. We didn’t know how bad it was going to get. The other thing that’s really important is we can’t tax and overload our hospital system here. I have a brother in Kings County and he would call me daily, their hospitals were full, they had zero beds. I knew how scary it could be.

We’re here to protect the people, to be concerned about their healthcare and wellbeing. I think that was our utmost priority. It is a fine line. We’re not going to make everyone happy, but we wanted to safeguard the health and the wellbeing of the residents of Shasta County.

C.G.: Which is difficult to do when you have people saying vaccines are a hoax, vaccines are a communist-socialist plot to control the population. Rep. Doug LaMalfa said, ‘There is no vaccine for COVID-19.’ … The needle you were trying to thread, keep the public safe but keep the economy viable … it’s impossible.

M.R.: It was an impossible situation for us. You’ve got to realize you’re talking to a cattle rancher. We vaccinate our cattle for various iterations of coronavirus. You can read it on the bottle of vaccine. I personally had no problem. Vaccinating our herd is really important to safeguard for health purposes. Vaccinations do work. You’re going to have some reactions, but you’re going to have lot more death [without vaccinations].

I lost friends to this [COVID-19]. People who are younger than I am. I went to their memorial services. I watched their grandchildren cry. I think about those grandchildren to this day, knowing a 64-year-old grandmother who had another 20, 25 years of life is gone, and those grandchildren will never have another Christmas with her, another birthday, she’ll miss their graduations. So, I watched firsthand what it can do.

Recall Shasta head Elissa McEuen and Supervisor Les Baugh plotting takeover of Shasta County.

R.V.: RW&B’s docuseries has been heavily imbued with western motifs, ranch life, cowboy life. But you’re actually a real rancher. Strangely enough, recall supporter Elissa McEuen criticized you for supporting 4-H. Yet the recall is selling the idea that our ranching and agriculture culture is disappearing, and they’re the ones who’ll bring it back. Who’s the real cowboy here?

M.R.: Well, first of all, I come from an extremely strong agricultural background. To give you a little history, in 1929 my grandfather started the Future Farmers of America in California. In 1969, I was the first and only female to show at the Cow Palace in state fair. Before girls were allowed into FFA there was a handful of us who lobbied for it at the state convention.

I grew up around cattle. As a matter fact, one of my siblings was saying to me the other day, ‘The only memory I have of you is you leading cattle, washing cattle, showing cattle, that’s all I can remember.’ I didn’t go to my high school prom because it was state finals judging at Cal Poly.

Anyway, my grandfather started the FFA program, then in 1933 he took over—they were going to close the doors—at Cal Poly and was president at Cal Poly for 33 years. He started Cal Poly, Pomona, and of course they have strong agricultural programs there, too. My father was very much involved in the State Department of Education. I had a brother who was director of the California Agricultural Leadership Program, I could go on and on. I have a brother who’s an agricultural attorney.

I have tremendous connections up and down the state agriculturally. As a matter of fact, the [state] secretary of ag called me the other day on some issues in Siskiyou County. I do have those connections.

That’s what I was able to access when it came time for us to be able to have the Anderson District Fair in 2020. We were the template; we were the first local fair that was able to exist where the kids were able to show and able to sell. It was a struggle, trust me. The CDFA (California Department of Food and Agriculture) was really nervous, it was during the pandemic.

I wanted to give you some background so you can understand my passion for 4-H and FFA. I was a 4-H member and an FFA member. There’s no greater—well Boy Scouts is great—they are among the best programs for developing leadership skills, developing a work ethic, developing self-confidence. I’m a strong proponent of that.

There are real cowboys and then there’s … something else. I challenge some of these gentlemen to go out and spend a day with some of our cowboys. They have to start at 5 in the morning and they probably wander in the house at 7 at night, and they will be full of cow manure from top to bottom.

I’ve done my share of being out with the cattle. There’s nothing I enjoy more than being with my cows.

R.V.: Is this a disappearing way of life?

M.R.: It is. Right now, the cattle business is tough. Right now, we don’t have any feed, so people are having to scale back their herds. As far as the family rancher, yes it is [disappearing], because there isn’t enough money. My husband is an accredited farm manager and an accredited rural appraiser and real estate broker. We basically have to supplement our ranching income to be able to ranch, because there just isn’t the margin in it. The costs of inputs are incredible and have increased dramatically.

That’s another thing. People come into the board chambers and tell me I don’t know what it is to run a business? I spend my weekends paying bills, then I show up on a Tuesday morning and people tell me, ‘You don’t know,’ when I’ve just written a check for $109,000 for fertilizer for hayfields. Or a check for $46,000 for power per month for center pivots.

The other point I wanted to make, we had at least six employees at different times come down with COVID. We had to quarantine time and time again. The point is, if anybody understood what a struggle it was to keep businesses going it was us. And we were an essential business; we had to produce meat, so people had something to eat.

Like many essential businesses during the pandemic, ranchers Mary and Jim Rickert struggled to remain open.

C.G.: Is there some sort of forum … for people to get together from various opposing views and really kind of learn about things instead of fight about things?

M.R.: I’m a firm believer, and I’ve made comments to this effect at board meetings, that it’s really important that right now, especially during the drought, this incredibly difficult fire season, the pandemic, a lot of our homeless and drug issues, we need to come together as a community, and that’s all I want.

I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, Republican or Independent. I really don’t care. I don’t look at local politics as partisan politics. It really isn’t an issue for me. I don’t think it should be important. I think we need to come together as a community. If we’re going to survive this, if we’re going to prosper … we need to come together.

That is as point I’ve tried to make over and over again. If a business wanted to stay viable and not have problems with COVID, they needed to follow the guidelines to keep their employees healthy. It’s in their best interest.

We had one employee, he was asymptomatic, who didn’t realize he gave [COVID] to another employee, who got deathly ill; he wound up in the hospital. The young guy, his parents got it from him, and he thought he was going to lose his mother. He was in tears. The stress and the anxiety from having COVID hit as an outbreak in your business or your family is really difficult.

R.V.: It has been a couple of BOS meetings since the new decorum rules have been established. How are they working out so far?

M.R.: I think it’s a little better. It was a little rowdy last time; we had a couple of sensitive subjects. It’s still a struggle. A lot of people say they want to have night meetings. Well, since 1850 boards of supervisors have met on Tuesday mornings up and down the state. It’s not something we can randomly decide. There’s so much information that people just aren’t aware of.

C.G.: What am I as a progressive supposed to think when a Shasta County Sheriff’s Office deputy posts racists memes on his Facebook page?

M.R.: We need strong law enforcement, and we are in the process of deciding how we’re going to move forward with the [hiring of a new sheriff.] We want to move forward as rapidly as possible. We cannot have a special election, so we can appoint, or we can open it up for interview. … I’m really promoting someone who can come in and be fair and treat everyone equally and get things straightened out here.

C.G.: Are there any plans for some sort of citizens’ monitoring of law enforcement?

M.R.: As we talked previous to the show, for years my work on the mental health board, and with NAMI, the National Association of Mental Illness, [focused] on crisis prevention training. I really think we need to ramp that up and I think we do need to understand that for people who are on drugs or in a mental health crisis, there are ways you can deescalate, and that training is really important. It needs to be reemphasized and we need to focus on it.

We have new crisis response team. That save lives, it saves money, and I’m going to say it again and say it again, if people would just listen! What I’m trying to do with mental health and drug addiction in this county is to save money and save lives. It’s a two-pronged benefit.

Right before the pandemic—I will give [then sheriff] Eric Magrini credit for this—he and I worked on getting a medically-assisted treatment program in the jail. We got it up and going. The pandemic hit and they had to disband it because we had to take in all of these prisoners the governor was releasing.

I was bitterly disappointed about that. We still have the jail bed capacity treatment program where we can locally restore people to stand trial. If they have to sit in Shasta County Jail for six or nine months before they can get into a hospital for drug dependency, it costs us more money. We’re saving money by doing these programs.

District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert gets the last word.

Caller: Mary, you’re on the Shasta County Regional Transportation Agency. Do you have any updates on any planning to expand our electric-charging grid? I’ve been driving a Leaf for a couple of years, and I’m really interested in getting some charging stations.

M.R.: It’s funny you say that. I had a story at my last SCRTA board meeting. About six weeks ago, I came out of mass, I go to mass in Fall River Valley at our little Mission Church, there’s about 20 of us who go regularly. There was a gentleman standing by a Tesla, and it was a very high-end Tesla.

He walks up to me and says, “Is there a charging station?” He wasn’t local, because everybody knows everybody in Fall River Valley. I really tried not to laugh, I said no. Anyway, I called one of our great guys who works with us on one of our ranches, and asked him to meet me at the shop. This guy said he had 10 miles left on his Tesla, there’s no charging stations in Fall River Valley. We were down to 5 miles by the time we got to the shop.

We pulled out our welder and plugged in and it was very slowly charging him. Finally, we have a log cabin on the ranch and we ended up putting him and his wife, three kids and his mother-in-law up for the night. They finally plugged it into the dryer outlet. We got the man charged. He was a doctor from Sacramento.

So, I brought it [charging stations] up one more time to SCRTA. We don’t just need them locally, in town. We need them rurally because we have so many tourists. I did bring that up, and I’m hoping we can get some traction with it.

C.G.: Supervisor Rickert, is there anything you’d like to leave us with?

M.R.: At our last board meeting, we approved the fiscal budget for 2021-2022. I thought it was very interesting and I think readers need to hear this.

One of the things we’re being recalled for is our alleged ineffective handling of county funding. We’d had a preliminary discussion of the budget earlier in June. People knew that they could come and make public comments for three minutes. This was the finalization of this budget.

It ended up being a 4-1 vote; Patrick Jones voted against the budget. Joe Chimenti as our chair opened the public meeting and he asked for public comment. Now, Elissa McEuen, who is the leader of Recall Shasta, was in the audience. We did not get one comment. She did not come forward. No one came forward.

They have had a CPA come in and meet with the CFO; Elissa has come in and met with the CFO. They’ve had the opportunity for one full year to evaluate, analyze and pick through our county budget. There was not one comment. So, I am going to assume that they don’t have a complaint.

 

R.V. Scheide

R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas. He can be emailed at RVScheide@anewscafe.com.

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