Shasta County Superintendent of Schools Judy Flores, County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen and District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett have several things in common.
All three women are respected elected public officials who’ve spent decades competently serving the citizens of Shasta County without scandal or mishap.
All three have been recognized by their peers and others for their outstanding achievements in their respective professions.
And now, all three women are under attack by the far-right political movement that has surged through the nation, including Shasta County, since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago. As nasty as Trumpism was, in the wake of his electoral defeat and the advent of the novel coronavirus, it has morphed into something far worse.
The members of this right-wing political movement don’t believe in science. They don’t believe in expertise, meritocracy or democracy. They can’t properly be called Republicans or conservatives. They don’t believe in taking any collective action to mitigate ongoing catastrophes, whether it’s homelessness, climate change or the COVID-19 pandemic, which during the past two years has killed more than 1 million Americans, including 614 Shasta County residents.
They share Grover Norquist’s perverse desire to shrink government down to the size of a baby and drown it in a bathtub and former President Donald J. Trump’s predilection for owning the libs above all else.
They seek conflict, not cooperation, even if fighting means the perpetually beleaguered white working class they claim to represent gets hurt in the process.
Locally, this far-right movement is led by Shasta County District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones and is comprised of Tea Party remnants such as Mark and Lyndia Kent, State of Jefferson separatists like Terry and “Rally” Sally Rapoza and militia-aligned strongmen like Woody Clendenen and Carlos Zapata.
Formerly consigned to the margins of Shasta County politics, these rightwing extremists have gained a new lease on life thanks to the largess of Connecticut son-of-a-billionaire Reverge Anselmo, an extreme libertarian who has pumped more than $730,000 into their collective campaign coffers, according to campaign filings and Anselmo himself.
Kent’s sister Lyndia serves as the treasurer for Shasta General Purpose Committee, which received $450,000 last year from Anselmo to fuel its successful effort to recall Shasta County District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty in February.
In addition to Shasta General Purpose Committee, Tea Party provocateur cum Trumpist Mark Kent has formed the Liberty Committee Pac, which has donated thousands to the three rightwing candidates. It’s also paid Sinclair media company, which owns KRCR Channel 7, $12,325.
Liberty Committee has not disclosed its donors, but Anselmo said he recently donated another $180,000 to the movement.
It’s a relatively large sum of money compared to past political spending in Shasta County, and they’ve got hundreds of thousands of Reverge Revenge bucks left to burn.
Now, following a national trend, the hard right extremists have targeted school superintendent Flores, county clerk Darling Allen and district attorney Bridgett, all three of whom are respected elected public servants who due to the complex and demanding nature of their nonpartisan positions have generally faced few if any political challenges.
In short, these elected officials aren’t necessarily accustomed to raising campaign money, meaning the tens of thousands of dollars being injected into these races by Anselmo and other rightwing outsiders could turn the tide against this trio of exceptionally experienced public servants.
For the radical right, it’s not about installing competent candidates in these offices. It’s about inserting proto-fascist white Christian nationalist ideologues who will oppose mask and vaccine mandates in the middle of a raging pandemic, rave against queer people and people of color, proclaim election fraud without a shred of evidence and declare government itself the enemy of the people—even as they run for government offices.
Welcome to the Shasta County primary election, 2022 version.
Woman of the Year vs. the Incapable Dr. Caples
In 2021, 1st District state Sen. Brian Dahle, a conservative Republican, selected Shasta County Superintendent of Schools Judy Flores as the district’s woman of the year for the pivotal role she played keeping schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Due to an amazing partnership with Shasta County Public Health,” Dahle said in his proclamation, “schools in Shasta County have been open for in-person learning throughout the 2020-21 school year.”
An educator and administrator with 35 years of experience—32 of which have been spent in Shasta County serving in roles ranging from teacher to district administrator to assistant superintendent before she was promoted to superintendent five years ago —Flores has worked tirelessly during the pandemic, balancing the need to protect students, teachers, administrators and school employees from the novel coronavirus with the demand by many business leaders and parents to return to in-person instruction.
As Flores explained in a detailed email response to A News Café’s query, she hit the ground running when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the shelter-in-place order in March 2020, working with SCPH to form six separate working groups by April. The sharing of information between these stakeholders enabled county schools to open for in-person learning in fall 2020, while many counties in the state remained on distance learning.
When COVID-19 cases surged that winter, driving the rate of infection into the fourth and highest tier of the state’s rating system, Flores and a local delegation traveled to Sacramento and met with the governor’s education advisor. Ultimately, schools in Shasta County, where the infection rate at the time was lower than the state’s, were permitted to stay open with less than the mandated six feet of socially distanced space between students.
There’s more. Working with SCPH, Flores established COVID liaison Zoom meetings to help school administrators keep abreast of changing state laws and mandates. These once-weekly meetings are still conducted every other week, with new information being presented quarterly. During the Omicron surge earlier this year, Flores once again participated in weekly media briefings with SCPH.
“Even though I have no authority over administrators or school boards in how they implement the laws and guidance, it is important to me that they all have access to the same information from Shasta County Public Health and the California Department of Public Health,” Flores said.
In addition to guiding county schools through the largest public health crisis in a century, Flores maintained her regular duties, which involve overseeing SCOE’s 350 employees, who, according to her campaign website, “work in a variety of programs and services including childcare referrals and payment vouchers, family childcare and center-based early learning training and mentoring, preschool programs, Excel Academy, Independent Study, Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, after school and special education programs, professional development, academic and social/emotional learning support for preschools and K-12, connections for families and schools to county/community resources, administrator training programs, and homeless & foster youth support.”
That’s a wide range of territory to cover, even without a pandemic. Asked how she does it, Flores said, “One of the key roles of a County Superintendent of Schools is his/her ability to work closely with county agencies, community partners, charter schools, and school districts. This requires trusting relationships and a service mindset.”
The contrast between the nonpartisan Flores and her radical right opponent Dr. Bryan Caples couldn’t be more stark.
In late February, A News Café broke the story about Caples’ wretched work history, which has since been corroborated by multiple news outlets. As is the custom with some school superintendents, Caples, who has a Ph.D. in educational administration and organizational leadership, puts “Dr.” before his name. That hasn’t prevented Caples from being dismissed or granted an early exit from three previous stints as a school superintendent during the past decade.
Surprisingly, the revelations of Caples’ disqualifying work history haven’t forced him out of the race. That’s in part thanks to a $4900 donation from the Shasta General Purpose Committee (largely funded by Anselmo) and $3500 donation from the Liberty Committee.
Caples has raised $11,200 for his campaign so far, compared to $16,700 for Flores, whose largest donor is Erin Resner, the Dutch Brothers franchise co-owner and Redding city councilwoman who’s running for the District 1 supervisor seat being vacated by Joe Chimenti in the June 7 primary.
Caples can also thank a softball interview by veteran KRCR-TV anchorman Mike Mangas in late March for keeping him in the race. Mangas was no doubt frustrated by Caples’ ability to turn all his previous dismissals into Quixotic tales featuring him as the straight-talking hero battling the windmills of wokeness.
Caples told Mangas he was dismissed in 2013 from the superintendent position at Scott Valley School District in Siskiyou County because he suspended a student for bullying, and the student happened to be the son of an influential family friendly with the school board.
In fact, Caples himself admitted he never suspended the student in a blast email he sent to everyone on Scott Valley’s email list shortly after the incident happened in 2013. That’s according to the Scott Valley Unified School District’s investigation of Caples, which an anonymous source obtained through the California Public Records Act and provided to A News Café.
After a parent complained directly to Caples about her child being bullied, Caples pulled the alleged bully out of class and admonished him, even though the school’s principal couldn’t verify the bullying allegations. He returned the student to the classroom and then called the student’s parents.
“I told her [her son] was not even in any trouble,” Caples explained in the blast email. “I simply told him to stop bullying other students. I just want the bullying to stop, I told her and once again reiterated that her son was not even in trouble.”
Caples told Mangas the investigation exonerated him of any wrongdoing which isn’t exactly the truth. Although Caples’ handling of the bullying incident didn’t violate district policy, the investigation found the blast email exposed the student’s identity and shouldn’t have been sent.
In addition, the investigation found that Caples violated the district’s nepotism policy twice during his short year-and-a-half tenure by suggesting his wife should be hired for district positions. He also verbally and physically intimidated several teachers.
When the Scott Valley school board head attempted to discuss these and other issues with Caples, he wadded up the written criticism and tossed the paper ball in her general direction.
Caples’ most recent posting at Burnt Ranch Elementary School District in Trinity County was similarly acrimonious. The district, comprised of a single school featuring 60 students and five teachers, hired Caples for the part-time three-days-per-week position in June 2021. Although Caples was required to be on campus two days per week, he never showed up after the school year started in the fall.
Caples told Mangas the district required masks both indoors and outdoors and he suffers from a medical condition that prohibits him from wearing a mask. The BRESD school board refused to accommodate him and dismissed him instead, Caples claimed.
Like all plausible-sounding fabrications, there’s a kernel of truth here.
Caples claims he has Meniere’s Syndrome, a disorder of the inner ear which can cause dizziness and vertigo severe enough to impair driving, not ideal for navigating the twisty two-hour drive from Redding to Burnt Ranch on State Route 299.
While Caples says he has a doctor’s note exempting him from wearing a mask because he has Meiniere’s Syndrome, the condition doesn’t meet the CDC’s criteria for mask exemption.
According to BRESD board president Josh McKnight, Caples brought his condition up after he was hired. McKnight said he scheduled several meetings with Caples to discuss accommodating his condition, but Caples never kept the appointments.
Masking was never discussed, because no discussions occurred. The school never required masks outdoors, McKnight said. Caples might have known that, had he showed up for work. To compound the situation, the absent-prone BRESD superintendent went on sick leave in November.
Sometime in early December, according to school board minutes, Caples sent a series of blast emails to the district’s email list slamming the BRESD board of trustees and claiming he was “waiting for the board to begin the ‘interactive process’ to discuss my reasonable accommodation request.”
It was shades of Scott Valley all over again, with several teachers complaining about both Caples’ absence from campus and his blast emails disparaging the district.
Caples repeatedly threatened to take legal action against the district, but so far has not filed suit. According to the minutes from the Jan. 13, 2022, board meeting, “By unanimous vote, the Burnt Ranch Elementary School District Governing Board took action to terminate Superintendent Dr. Bryan Caples without cause.”
Caples received a $60,000 pay-out for his trouble, not bad considering he never showed up on campus after school started. Asked by Mangas what he’s learned from being dismissed as superintendent from three successive school districts, Caples quipped, “Be very careful where you take a position.”
The Windmills of Wokeness
Toward the end of the interview, Mangas, perhaps sensing how much time they’d spent going over Caples’ shoddy work history at the expense of his campaign’s talking points, threw his query a lifeline. What about mask and vaccine mandates, Critical Race Theory, gender identity confusion and Common Core? Mangas asked.
Caples was more than willing to tilt his lance toward the windmills of wokeness the right-wing GOP is running against this midterm election, from mask and vaccine mandates to Critical Race Theory to alleged revisionist history being taught in public schools.
What would Caples have done faced with the state’s mask mandate for schools after the pandemic arrived in March 2020? Armchair quarterbacks always have the easy answer.
“I believe masking these kids for the past two years was detrimental to their health, and I’m not going to do it,” he said. “Those of you that know me know that’s not going to happen on my watch.”
That’s the sort of thinking that leads to school closures and distance learning, according to Superintendent Flores.
“We had to work closely with Shasta County Public Health to be able to open our schools in the Fall of 2020, ensuring that PPE [personal protection equipment] and safety precautions were in place,” she said. “Without this coordination, more than likely our schools would have been in distance learning for much of the year like the majority of students in the state.”
Critical Race Theory or CRT has become the right wing’s racist dog whistle of choice this election season. Strictly speaking, it’s an upper-level academic disciple that explores structural racism within the legal system. It’s generally not taught in K-12 schools. For the rightwing America First radicals, CRT has become shorthand for teaching kids any lesson that might portray race relations in the United States in a negative light.
“Critical race theory, those are things that have been pushed out by our state and our county officer of education,” Caples told Mangas disingenuously, with no pushback against the blatant falsehood from the veteran journalist. “Our county of education is training teachers in elements of critical race theory, revisionist history, I will stop that.”
Nothing of the sort is happening in Shasta County schools, Flores insists.
“There is no evidence that Critical Race Theory is being taught in Shasta County Schools,” Flores said in an email. “CRT is not found within the CA State Board approved standards. The County Superintendent of Schools has no control over what history curricula is used in schools. It is up to local school boards to review instructional materials that are adopted for use by their students.”
While Caples didn’t elaborate on “gender identity confusion” during his interview with Mangas, the anti-woke radical right arm of the GOP has launched an all-out legislative assault on the LGBTQ community in general and transgender individuals in particular.
Florida’s recently enacted “Don’t Say Gay” law, which forbids all classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through grade 3, is one example of this trend; not to be outdone, Alabama just enacted laws criminalizing physicians who provide gender-affirming medical treatment to minors and restricting public bathroom use to the gender listed on the student’s birth certificate.
Caples, a self-described “god-fearing, family-loving American patriot,” has called for the reintroduction of his homophobic brand of Christianity into public schools. On his website, he described legislation to permit transgender students to use the school locker room and bathroom corresponding with their gender identity as “immoral and wrong” and “incompatible with the American way of life and the personal freedoms we cherish.”
Parents of LGBTQ youth attending local public and charter schools concerned about these developments can take some comfort in the fact that Flores’ focus on the issue as a superintendent is on inclusion. It’s not about whether an individual student is straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, it’s about ensuring all students have equal access to the same education devoid of bullying behavior.
“Our role is specific to supporting schools to create welcoming environments where every student feels safe and able to learn,” Flores said.
“Safe” is not the first word that comes to mind contemplating Caples’ unlikely candidacy for County Superintendent of Schools. He has proven himself incapable of managing a tiny school district with just one school and 60 students, a performance that pales in comparison to Flores’ management of the sprawling Shasta County Office of Education edifice during the pandemic.
Moreover, Caples doesn’t understand that Shasta County is dependent on federal and state funding—we get back far more than we pay in taxes—which almost always comes with strings attached. You can’t just cut the strings, wave your hands and proclaim “freedom,” as our radical extremists fantasize.
“They won’t send us money?” Caples said to Mangas. “Well, the money they’re sending us back is our tax money in the first place.”
“They’re not going to be able to shut down a whole county,” Caples continued. “This movement is even bigger than that. Eventually as other counties nearby us see what we’re doing, we’re actually going to take our government back, and it’s going to be a government of the people by the people, well, hopefully that will be contagious, and they’ll want to do the same thing.”
Interesting word selection, “contagious.” Following in COVID-19’s footsteps, the proto-fascist rightwing movement has indeed spread like a virus across the United States, especially in red rural counties. With its emphasis on ideology over competence and expertise, it runs the risk of killing the host.
Caples has not replied to repeated email inquiries from A News Café.
Editor’s note: This story was revised the evening of April 11, 2022, for clarity and a correction.
Stay tuned for Part 2 – Cathy Darling Allen: Experienced Female Elected Official Targeted by Rightwing Male in County Election.