Shasta County residents who wonder what life might be like under the new majority rule of District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones, District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh and recently elected District 2 Supervisor Tim Garman got their answer last week. In a 3-2 decision the Shasta County Board of Supervisors majority voted to fire Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Ramstrom without cause.
It was a breathtakingly stupid and cruel act. Stupid, because Ramstrom has performed superlatively during the COVID-19 pandemic, delicately balancing the state’s mandates with the county’s preference for education rather than enforcement, even as she received repeated death threats for simply doing her job.
Cruel, because Jones, Baugh and Garman paid no heed to a public-health system that has been battered and weakened by the pandemic for the past two years. The complex web of relationships developed by Ramstrom during nearly two decades of local public service was maliciously rent asunder with no regard for the aftermath. Her firing was performative; the cruelty was the point.
Ramstrom’s dismissal, combined with the departure of Health and Human Services Director Donnell Ewert, who retired early after the Leonard Moty recall election rather than face the wrath of the board majority, dramatically weakens Shasta County. These recent departures of key Shasta County leaders puts at risk the county’s ability to respond to the numerous public health crises it faces, from fentanyl addiction to lack of mental health treatment to the ongoing pandemic.
You cut off the heads — the allegedly bloated and corrupt bureaucratic hydra (known to everyone else as the public-health system) — and the entire body eventually dies.
Welcome to Jonestown, where a vengeful Connecticut son-of-a-billionaire, Reverge Anselmo, has bought himself a fascist majority on the Shasta County Board of Supervisors.
Anselmo has come a long way since losing a lawsuit against the Shasta County Department of Resources nearly a decade ago. After ponying up $1 million, the erstwhile Hollywood B-flick producer sold his ranch, winery and restaurant near Shingletown at a loss and moved back home to Connecticut, presumably to lick his wounds and never to be heard from again.
The takeover began when Anselmo bought a supervisor seat for Tea Party fanatic Jones in 2020 for $100,000. Last year, Anselmo poured $450,000 into the Shasta General Purpose Committee to recall three Shasta County supervisors, resulting in the successful recall of long-serving District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty, who was replaced by the epically inexperienced Garman.
According to campaign financial statements, earlier this year a large chunk of the remainder of SGPC’s blood money, $220,000, was rolled over into the newly formed Liberty Committee.
Longtime local Tea Party activist Mark Kent serves as principal officer for Liberty Committee, which so far has spent thousands on media buys and mass mailings for a slate of right-wing candidates in the upcoming primary election.
That includes Kevin Crye, who’s running for the District 1 supervisor seat being vacated by Joe Chimenti, and Chris Kelstrom, who’s running for the District 5 supervisor seat being vacated by Baugh.
Anselmo has recently kicked in another $180,000, raising his total donations to nearly three-quarters of a million dollars. The Liberty Committee is sitting on a $400,000 war chest heading into the June 7 primary election.
Like a solar eclipse, Dr. Ramstrom’s firing has cast a shadow over Shasta County. The abrupt and vicious nature of her departure may have caught some people off guard, but Jones is merely fulfilling a promise he made last year in episode three of Red, White and Blueprint, the propagandistic docuseries co-produced by local restaurateur Carlos Zapata and Bethel-connected music producer Jeremy Edwardson.
Give him a chance to count to three, Jones promised, and he will dismantle Shasta County’s supposedly corrupt and bloated bureaucracy one employee, one department at a time.
Now, lo and behold Jones can count to three and Los Tres Pendejos — aka Jones, Baugh and Garman — will be chopping heads off until at least the end of this year. But the balance of board power could be upset after that timeframe, depending upon the results of the June 7 primary election for District 1 and District 5 supervisor seats, and any required November runoffs if no candidate obtains a 50 percent-plus-one-vote advantage in the top-two primary.
A News Café has previously covered the District 1 race, as well as the races for County Clerk, Superintendent of Schools and District Attorney. In each of those contests, the Anselmo-backed white male candidate shares the singular characteristic of being uniquely unqualified for the position being sought. With one caveat, the five-man race for Shasta County District 5 is no exception to this rule.
Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves
The caveat is that candidate Baron Browning, the Anderson city councilman and former mayor, received an unsolicited maximum $4900 donation from Reverge Anselmo himself, rather than the Anselmo-financed Liberty Committee. Browning says he doesn’t know Anselmo and he’s in no position to turn down the donation.
Meanwhile, Liberty Committee has spent nearly $5000 on campaign mailers for Browning’s most viable opponent, former grocery store manager and State of Jefferson proselytizer Chris Kelstrom. It’s Kelstrom who’s listed on Liberty Committee’s slate candidate media buys, not Browning, even though Kelstrom has denied getting any help from Anselmo.
Browning, who has so far raised $63,000 and spent $46,000, is clearly the establishment favorite when it comes to donations. He received a maximum $4900 from Sierra Pacific, $3500 from Lassen Canyon Nursery, $2009 from Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson, $2000 from Operating Engineers Local 3 and $1500 from the North Eastern Building Trades Council.
Browning can take partial credit for the advances Anderson has made during his two terms in office, which include passing a local sales tax to double the number of officers on the Anderson Police Department and the recruitment of new big businesses such as US-Offsite, an affordable modular homebuilder that will bring 200 well-paying jobs to Anderson.
On the law enforcement side of the ledger, Browning introduced and helped pass a ban on selling butane in Anderson in 2016, after several butane honey hash oil labs exploded in Shasta County. In 2017, he introduced and helped pass a proclamation stating Anderson would not follow the state’s sanctuary laws protecting undocumented immigrants. Instead, Anderson would permit local law enforcement to work with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, an event that apparently never came to pass.
“I actually have a proven track record,” Browning said at the Redding Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum last month. “Anderson is a proven track record of my abilities for problem solving and solutions. That starts with public safety on down to economic growth and development. Planning and development through houses, zoning, on down to what our families really need and want in our community. We’ve done all those things, and we’ll continue to do those things in Shasta County.”
Browning is an enthusiastic booster of Sheriff Johnson’s “wagon wheel of justice” concept which consists of a new jail as the wheel’s hub with separate facilities providing mental health treatment, drug and alcohol recovery and vocational programs jutting out from the hub like spokes. The estimated cost for the tentative project is $200 million, not counting future operating costs.
At the Chamber of Commerce forum, Kelstrom was skeptical about the wagon wheel of justice’s cost and the approximately 10 to 12 years it will take to complete it.
“We need to do something, and we need to do it rather quickly,” Kelstrom said. “We need to put the punishment back into crime and punishment.”
Example? Kelstrom suggested Shasta County could solve jail overcrowding by emulating disgraced former Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and sheltering the excess prisoners in tents. Browning thoughtfully pointed out that Arpaio’s methods have cost Arizona millions of dollars in lawsuits.
It’s almost certain that Kelstrom hasn’t read and understood Dostoyevsky’s classic existential masterpiece Crime and Punishment; anyone who has would never bandy about the title phrase so callously. Like his cohorts on the Red, White and Blueprint/Anselmo/Liberty Committee slate — which include Schools Superintendent candidate Bryan Caples, County Clerk candidate Robert Holsinger, District Attorney candidate Erik Jensen and District 1 candidate Kevin Crye — Kelstrom isn’t selling competence. Meritocracy is not on the menu. It’s been replaced by manliness.
Kelstrom’s campaign slogan, “head and shoulders above the rest,” is not based on any actual knowledge or skills he possesses, but his 6’9’’ height.
Vote for me because I’m tall!
“If you like Patrick Jones, you will like me,” Kelstrom said last month on Reid Between the Lines, the podcast produced by local anti-mask-and-vaccine-mandate teachers Martin and Christa Reid. “If you don’t like Patrick Jones, sorry, you’re not going to like me.”
Thanks for the warning.
It turns out Kelstrom has been friends with profligate liar Jones since elementary school. On the Reids’ podcast, he burnished his anti-establishment credentials by lambasting the Shasta County GOP’s recent annual Lincoln Reagan Dinner, where “status quo swampers” turned their noses up at the new “movers and shakers” such as himself.
Kelstrom said he’s had COVID-19 twice, which put a damper on Martin Reid’s claims about the bulletproof efficacy of natural immunity. Kelstrom never wears a mask unless he’s forced, yet he failed to convince his daughter to go unmasked during a surging pandemic. Unlike her father, she apparently believes in science and protecting herself from a deadly airborne virus that has killed 1 million Americans, including 642 Shasta County residents, since March 2020.
Kelstrom has vowed to fire as many county employees as it takes to cut the budget down to whatever he imagines is the ideal size. It’s not the guy filling the potholes that’s the problem, it’s the 12 people between him and the manager getting paid $100,000 a year to do studies and go to conferences.
“They’re always doing studies,” he groused.
The closest Kelstrom comes to a policy proposal is his idea to add a customer-service survey to the bottom of every form issued by the county that will be shared with all five supervisors. The public aren’t just customers; they’re bosses. It’s like a proposal once floated by Anselmo when he still lived here. It’s also a gargantuan workplace harassment lawsuit waiting to happen.
Kelstrom has been an ardent proponent of the State of Jefferson secessionist movement since 2013 and has actively helped spread its nativist message. SOJ is all about blood and soil, the supposedly unique culture of whiteness that arose from the bloodshed of the native inhabitants forcibly killed and displaced from the North State in the 19th century.
The movement seeks to establish a white Christian ethnostate comprised of three dozen or so rural counties from northern California and southern Oregon. The legislative hurdles the movement would have to leap to actually form a 51st state are so steep, it remains a pipedream, no matter how many green-and-yellow T-shirts and hats SOJ merchandise manager Terry Rapoza sells at North State gun shows and gas stations.
Longtime Tea Party activist Lyndia Kent, Mark Kent’s sister, serves as treasurer for Kelstrom’s campaign, which has so far raised $55,563 and spent $17,697. Notable donors include $1100 from local public health critic Dr. Piyush “Paul” Dhanuka, $105 from cheapskate Jones, $925 from indoor grow mogul Jon Knight, and un-itemized contributions from auctions, raffles and other events totaling more than $40,000.
Counting the money paid by Liberty Committee for media ads and mass mailings, Kelstrom is financially on par with Browning, and represents a real threat to two-term Anderson city councilman Browning.
That can’t really be said about the three other challengers in the race: cement truck driver Colt Roberts, insulating concrete forms guru/retired Shasta County Public Works mechanic Frank LoBue, and former Black Butte School District board member Alex Madrigal.
The Young Gun
At 27, Colt Roberts is easily the youngest of the five candidates. At the Chamber of Commerce forum, Roberts supported the wagon wheel concept, but wants it done quicker and faster.
“Leaders push the envelope,” he said, repeating a pat phrase among several he appears to have memorized. “Followers don’t. They just comply.”
Other than that, Roberts didn’t make much of an impression at the forum. On the Reid Between the Lines podcast in late February, he admitted if elected he would only serve the people who voted for him, not the entire 5th district.
Roberts’ campaign donations topped out at $4300. He’s already thrown his support to Kelstrom.
“Math was my worst subject; that’s where I got all the bad grades,” he confessed to the pair of schoolteachers.
Roberts’ son didn’t want to wear a mask at school during the pandemic, so dad taught him the right things to say to teachers in order to get away with not wearing a mask. “Nobody can make you do something you don’t want to do,” Roberts told his son.
“What about paying taxes, Dad?” his son asked coyly.
It appears Roberts complains a lot about paying taxes when he’s at home.
Roberts, who once referred to A News Café as a band of “radical Marxists,” was just one of the two candidates who returned ANC’s questionnaire.
He supports the firing of Dr. Ramstrom. He backs the wagon wheel of justice concept but wants it done quicker and dirtier. He supports the State of Jefferson, and like all SOJ adherents he advocates for the performance of a “forensic audit” on the county budget, which already undergoes a thorough annual audit.
Given last week’s leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft decision in which five extremely conservative Catholic justices revoked not just the constitutional right to abortion but the right to privacy in general, potentially eviscerating decades of settled case law when the official decision is announced this summer, ANC asked the candidates their views on the 1st Amendment’s establishment and exercise of religion clauses.
“The 1st Amendment protects five natural rights freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition your government for a redress of grievances and, freedom of religion, not freedom from religion,” Roberts answered.
It’s the old bogus “freedom of religion, not from religion” argument. The establishment clause prohibits laws that force individuals to follow the precepts of a faith not their own. Conservative Catholic justices, for example, aren’t free to push their extreme limits on sexual reproduction practices on the secular population.
At least they weren’t free to do so until last week. The court leak was an earthshaking moment for American women that locally only added to the pall over Dr. Ramstrom’s sacking.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but the three elected officials targeted by the RWB/Anselmo/Liberty brigade, Superintendent of Schools Judy Flores, County Clerk and Registrar Cathy Darling Allen and District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett, just happen to be accomplished, successful females.
It’s hard not to conclude there’s a war on women going on in Shasta County and the nation at large.
“Eeeeeowhoooo, I just had a brain freeze believe it or not,” Frank LoBue said at the Chambers’ forum upon balking on a question, cementing his status as the 5th district’s most enigmatic candidate.
LoBue has reported no campaign donations so far and appears to be entirely self-funded.
LoBue presented himself at the forum as an inventor, and when asked, held up his latest invention, the Trump Swamp Deck, playing cards that feature the former president clad in full-on SWAT gear on the back and “criminals” such as Hillary Clinton, James Comey and Adam Schiff behind bars on the face.
The Trump Swamp Deck is currently out of stock on Amazon.
But the retired Shasta County Public Works mechanic’s true obsession is insulating concrete forms, which he claims can be used to replace the 45,000 homes destroyed by wildfires in the North State during the past five years with new, fireproof homes.
It’s like he’s 10 years ahead of his time. Give climate change a decade, and people will be begging for ICF homes. Initiatives listed on LoBue’s campaign website include responsible land use, ocean advocacy and sustainable communities.
Yet somehow, he’s still a Trumper who advocates rounding up the county’s illegal marijuana growers, forcing them to rip up their own plants, then incarcerating them in a reopened Crystal Creek Rehab Camp where they’ll be sentenced to fighting wildfires until they sober up.
Then, they’ll be sent to visit Nancy Pelosi. He seriously said something like that. Asked what he’d do about the drought, LoBue waxed mystical.
“I pray for rain, I don’t know how you’re going to solve it,” he said.
The Long Shot
Like LoBue’s campaign, Shingletown area resident Alex Madrigal’s District 5 run appears to be entirely self-financed. As far as can be told, he has yet to attend any campaign event or report any donations. Madrigal was one of only two candidates who returned ANC’s questionnaire.
“I do not agree with her firing,” Madrigal answered when asked about the dismissal of Dr. Ramstrom by the board majority.
“Dr. Ramstrom was fired without cause! We were all caught off guard by COVID and she was just doing her job the best way she could. This is one of the main reasons I’m for running office.”
Madrigal offered common-sense advice when asked what he’d do about the wildfire threat.
“I am a firm believer in the ‘only you can prevent forest fires’ sentiment,” he said. “We have outstanding firefighters that put their lives on the line every day, but prevention is key. We need to maximize our efforts in wildfire safety education.”
Again, like LoBue, Madrigal is somewhat hard to pin down politically.
“I want to give our schools funding for higher learning,” he states on his campaign website. “I want to promote art, music, science and sports by helping to fund field trips and bring in those resources to our school districts that can’t get out and travel.”
Yet on the very same website, Madrigal, who appears to be Latino, blows the racist dog whistle, falsely claiming Critical Race Theory is being taught in Shasta County schools. It’s a total fabrication that unfortunately works on some voters.
We live in tumultuous times that require competent leadership. Half of Shasta County’s 112,362 registered voters are Republicans, about a quarter are Democrats, one-fifth are No Party Preference and 8 percent are “other.”
Apart from staunch conservatives, no voters will be entirely pleased with any of the District 5 candidates. In Shasta County, the political center is defined by the willingness to deport undocumented immigrants, if only in performative proclamations with mercifully no real teeth. No candidate for District 5 stands to the left of that boundary.
Nevertheless, it’s vitally important that Shasta County voters of all persuasions turn out to vote in the primary election on June 7. Patrick Jones, Les Baugh and Tim Garman, by unceremoniously firing a public servant who should be regarded as a hero, have shown us who they truly are.
Let’s believe them the first time, like the famous poet advises. Choosing Erin Resner for District 1 supervisor and Baron Browning for District 5 supervisor, both of whom have pledged to return civility and decorum to the board chambers, may not save Shasta County from whatever dismal fate awaits it, but it will certainly alter the course we’re on now.
It’s not the state of Jefferson we’re headed to. It’s to Jonestown, in the Republic of Gilead. All because a vengeful son-of-a-billionaire chose to spend nearly a million dollars destroying Shasta County.
It all sounds very scary, and it is. But don’t be afraid.