Shasta County Sheriff Candidates Forum: One of these guys is a lot like the other

From left, Shasta County Sheriff candidate John Greene and incumbent Sheriff Mike Johnson await questions at Monday’s forum hosted by the League of Women Voters.

Initially, there was no American flag visible in the Redding Library’s community room Monday evening. Even so, the Pledge of Allegiance and Old Glory were on the minds of many people who attended the League of Women Voters‘ latest candidate forum; this one featuring the pair of Shasta County Sheriff/Coroner candidates.

In fact, minutes before the forum’s start, Bob Holsinger stirred up the issue with a gleeful yell from the back of the room.

“Hey, Susan,” hollered a laughing Holsinger, leaning back in his chair, arms crossed across his chest, “Did you find the flag?”

Susan Wilson, the LWV’s moderator for the evening, wryly replied that she knew where the flag was.

It’s noteworthy that Holsinger, who’s staunchly anti-Dominion voting-machines (which Shasta County uses), wants to be the man in charge of Shasta County elections. He’s running against incumbent Cathy Darling Allen, the current Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of voters.

Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen.

Holsinger is also who, minutes into the May 4 forum that featured himself and Darling-Allen, asked the audience to stand and join him in the pledge. He did so knowing this was against the LWV’s wishes and protocol.

Bob Holsinger, candidate for Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of Voters, initiated the flag salute and pledge at the May 4 candidates forum, despite knowing it was contrary to League of Women Voters protocol.

Stand, salute, pledge

What’s the big deal about ultra-conservative candidates hijacking League of Women Voters forums and insisting everyone join them in saluting the American flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance?

The big deal is the fact that here in Shasta County the American flag and the pledge have been weaponized as right-wing political virtue signals during candidate forums hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Redding Area.

The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan national organization whose members are devoted to supporting and encouraging participatory democracy through events like candidate forums. The Redding LWV group has lots of company as other LWV events across the nation have become frequent targets for extremist conservatives who attempt to characterize the LWV as un-American.

That’s exactly what’s happened here in Shasta County with every forum the Redding-area League of Women Voters has hosted, beginning on May 3, then on May 4, followed by May 5, and finally, last night at the Shasta County Sheriff/Coroner candidates forum.

State of Jefferson devotee and Red, White and Blueprint member Terry Rapoza holds the flag he brought to the May 5 League of Women Voters candidates forum at the Redding Library.

Shasta County Sheriff/Coroner forum

From left, Shasta County Sheriff candidates John Greene and incumbent Sheriff Mike Johnson listen to League of Women Voters moderator Susan Wilson at Monday’s forum.

After last Monday evening’s event had been going a while, it appeared  that finally, this would be the one LWV candidate forum to escape the faux-patriotic drama; one where both candidates would demonstrate enough respect for the League of Women Voters to accommodate their rules.

Spoiler alert: The issue arose later, but we’ll get to that in a minute. (You can watch the entire forum here, thanks to Michael Flanagan and SCAC-TV.)

Nearly identical

Monday evening, incumbent Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson and former Shasta County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. John Greene were the evening’s candidates at the LWV’s fourth forum in one week.

During the one-hour event, the candidates’ answers were so closely aligned with one another that it was like hearing and seeing double.

Both want to stop the “revolving door” of criminals who are arrested, released, arrested, released, repeat. Both want to eradicate illegal marijuana grows. Both are conservatives. Both consider themselves Constitutionalists. Both say Shasta County needs more jail space, although they differ slightly regarding how to gain more jail beds.

Johnson is former Eureka Police officer, and former police chief of the Ion Police Department and the Anderson Police Department. His time in Eureka, a place he’d wanted to be police chief, included some controversy about instances of alleged unnecessary force. ANC addressed these issues and more in a July 2021 story. (To reach that part, scroll way down to the subhead “Johnson Career Timeline.”)

Johnson favors his  ambitious multi-faceted so-called “wagon wheel of justice” that offers many services – spokes – from detention center to mental-health and substance abuse treatment facility.

Greene likes that wagon-wheel-of-justice approach, but says something should be done in the meantime. He suggested that some vacant buildings could house inmates, while other places could house the homeless. A specific example was the soon-to-be vacated Shasta County Courthouse, available after the new courthouse construction is complete.

“As far as existing structures that we have within the county, as other buildings get built, those get vacated,” Greene said. “Instead of tearing those down, let’s turn those into a homeless shelter.”

Johnson, on the other hand, focused more on treatment and options for the unhoused, and has a tough “nothing for nothing” philosophy.

Johnson said his plan for dealing with the homeless comes from his time as the Anderson Police Chief, prior to being appointed as sheriff by the Shasta County Board of Supervisors. Johnson said the key to successfully dealing with the homeless problem is to hold the unhoused accountable. He said a large percentage of the homeless population are that way by choice, not by circumstance.

“Now, the ones that are (homeless) by circumstance and need help, I’m telling you every single agency in this county is willing to step up and get them that help and get them to the resource they need,” Johnson said.

“But the ones that are just choosing to live by the river and erect a tent and defecate and make a mess everywhere, they need to be held accountable. They need to be charged and booked into jail. Their stuff needs to be taken from them. And we need to get a program in place where they have to give back. It’s nothing for nothing. When we keep offering free services to people and expecting nothing in return, the problem is just going to get bigger.”

Greene’s tender topic: Marijuana-industry campaign money

The LWV moderator asked the men a two-part question related to marijuana. First, what can be done to eradicate marijuana in Shasta County? Second, have the candidates accepted any “marijuana industry” campaign contributions?

Greene went first, and was obviously displeased with the question. It was a reminder of his run for sheriff four years ago, when he took heat for accepting a campaign contribution from a legal marijuana dispensary.

“Every time, instead of working on the issues, we’ve got to explain this again,” Greene said. He then explained that after marijuana was legalized for recreational use in 2014, legitimate dispensaries opened for business, including one part-owned by a man who wanted to contribute money to Greene’s campaign.

“So yes I did (accept marijuana-industry related money)”, Greene said. “It was a legitimate legal business, and as a sheriff, as a Constitutional sheriff, it is my duty to also protect that business, just like I would protect any other mom and pop grocery store or anything of that nature.”

Greene added that he assumed Johnson would be “on the same page” regarding protecting those businesses, too.

He pointed out that in the first two years of marijuana dispensaries opening in Shasta Lake, tax revenue from those businesses brought in enough money to repave most of the city’s streets.

“So good, bad or indifferent, it is what it is, and yes I did,” Greene said regarding accepting marijuana-industry related money. “That was four years ago, in the last election. I wish we could just talk about these issues, or other issues.”

Greene preferred to speak about eradication of illegal marijuana grows, a topic Greene addresses at length in a campaign video ad.

When the question was posed to Johnson about whether he’d accepted marijuana-industry related campaign money, he answered with a firm “no”.

Mack devotees

The men were asked to define the term “Constitutional sheriff” – a hot topic among ultra-conservatives who believe sheriffs should  have more power and authority than they currently have. Johnson answered first, and said that there are many definitions, and a range of beliefs about what exactly the term “Constitutional sheriff” means.

“Just like in politics, you have the right wing and the left wing and everything in between,” Johnson said. “With Constitutional sheriffs, you have the same thing. But in a nutshell, a Constitutional sheriff is a sheriff that puts, first and foremost, your life, property, and constitutional rights of every person equally across the board. When we take an oath, we take an oath to uphold the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of California, the first being the bigger priority. And so, when you talk about Constitutional sheriffs, that should be first and foremost in your mind.”

Johnson added that he’d attended a Richard Mack training about a month ago, describing Mack as “probably the icon for Constitutional sheriffs”. Johnson said the training was an “eye-opener” for him.

“I gained a lot of respect and knowledge in that process of finding out what the responsibilities are of a Constitutional sheriff,” Johnson said.

When it was Greene’s turn to define a Constitutional sheriff, he also name-dropped Richard Mack, but then took his answer up a notch in the rhetoric that clearly resonated with a majority of the audience.

“I am also familiar with Sheriff Mack, and I’m a member of his organization as well,” Greene said.

“A true Constitutional sheriff is the last line of defense between the citizens and tyranny, which is what is coming. And if we don’t believe it — it is. With the mask mandates and things of that nature, it’s going to happen. And you have to have a sheriff – a true Constitutional sheriff — that will do everything in their power to protect your constitutional rights.”

That last line earned Greene a hearty round of applause, despite the fact that LWV requested that the audience reserved its applause for the forum’s beginning and end.

(By the way, Mack will be in Redding next month, an event that’s being widely publicized on North State social media.)

Who’s Big Mack?

Speaking of eye-openers, it’s telling that both Johnson and Greene admire the iconic Sheriff Richard Mack. In 2011 Mack founded the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA). According to the Anti-Defamation League, the SCPOA is a “large anti-government extremist group whose primary purpose it is to spread anti-government propaganda to, and recruit from, law enforcement personnel, especially county sheriffs and sheriff’s deputies.”

Bingo. Johnson is the sitting Shasta County Sheriff, and Greene is a former deputy.

The ADL said that Mack and CSPOA members believe that as long as county sheriffs’ intent is to “protect American citizens from foreign or domestic enemies” then sheriffs’ power is greater than any other agents or authorities.

“County sheriffs may therefore refuse to enforce—and can even actively oppose—any federal, state or other governmental measure (law, regulation, tax, court order, etc.) that they deem unconstitutional,” said a passage on the ADL website. “This notion—which has no basis in American law—was borrowed from the anti-government extremist sovereign citizen movement (CSPOA’s staff has included people with ties to that movement). Mack has also claimed—again, falsely—that the county sheriff has the power to call out the “militia” to support him in his opposition to tyranny.”

Open minds about open carry?

Both men were asked for their thoughts about “open carry” – meaning citizens could carry loaded firearms that were no longer concealed. California law currently prohibits “open carry” and instead favors allowing CCW (concealed to carry weapons) permits.

Greene went first this time, and replied that he’s in favor of open carry. He said the penal code already gives sheriffs the authority to “grant” CCWs. He expressed hatred for one particular word: grant.

“I shouldn’t have to grant you your Constitutional right to carry,” Greene said. “But also in that penal code it allows it — in counties with less than 200,000 people — to open carry with approval of the sheriff.”

Shasta County’s population is around 180,000 people, just 20,000 short of that magic 200,000 number.

However, Greene said with open carry in Shasta County, he’d also like to institute more public training and education about the legal ramifications of open carry. Greene elaborated on his open-carry beliefs on a March 20, 2022 KCNR radio show. (Go to about the 1:16:25 mark.)

If Greene becomes sheriff, he’d like to issue licenses that would make it lawful to carry loaded and exposed firearms within Shasta County’s borders.

More forbidden applause of approval from the audience, the majority of which, judging by audience reactions, seemed more strongly in favor of Greene.

Johnson open-carry: Hard no, but maybe yes

Johnson struggled a bit with the open-carry question. No wonder, because Johnson is in a political pickle if he hopes to be elected as Sheriff. He must walk a fine tightrope. He must appeal to moderates, progressives and rational Republicans. He must also strive to not alienate the loud minority of rabidly conservative voters backed by Anselmo and his seemingly unlimited campaign contributions.

“I used to be a hard no on this — that I wasn’t for it,” Johnson said of the open-carry concept for Shasta County. “And I wouldn’t say I’m a yes for it at this point.”

Johnson said there are pending lawsuits before the Supreme Court regarding open carry issues. He said the outcome of those lawsuits may determine whether California could become an open-carry state.

“I told you it used to be a hard no,” Johnson said regarding his thoughts about open-carry. “I see some of these states when they institute it, and immediately the crime rate went down. That is very hard to argue against. And so I’m becoming educated on it. I’m trying to be open-minded about it, where at first I wasn’t.”

To recap his open-carry answer: Hard no before, with an open-mind now, and a maybe possibility that he’d say yes. Got it?

Two candidates, few differences

Of all Shasta County’s June 7 primary races, Johnson and Greene’s campaigns in competition with one another have been the least hostile, nasty and contentious. This fact was apparent during the Monday forum, free of nasty jabs or personal attacks. Really, it’s too bad the Shasta County Sheriff/Coroner position wasn’t available for job-sharing, because Johnson and Greene are on the same page on so many of the issues that they’re nearly interchangeable.

Greene, who ran for sheriff and lost four years ago, seemed four-years’ wiser and four years’ more confident during the forum than he appeared in his last go-round for the job of Shasta County Sheriff. And even though Greene clearly wants to become Sheriff, at one point Greene said he wouldn’t criticize Johnson for the job he’s done since the Board of Supervisors appointed Johnson to that position following  former Sheriff Magrini’s departure, because Johnson was handed “a mess”.

Johnson’s greatest advantage is the fact he’s the acting Shasta County Sheriff, which means he has experience in that position that Greene lacks.

Johnson is also part of a slate of more temperate candidates promoted by Shasta Vote, described on its Facebook page as  “non-partisan group informing voters and electing qualified candidates”. A Shasta Vote video lists its chosen candidates.

The Shasta County Sheriff/Coroner race is a bit confusing, since both candidates share similar viewpoints on many topics, which makes it difficult to determine their differences.

However, with Johnson being part of the Shasta Vote group, the process of elimination would assume Greene belonged with the other group comprised of non-Shasta-Vote self-described “anti-establishment” candidates: Shasta County District Attorney candidate Erik Jensen, Shasta County Superintendent of Schools candidate Bryan Caples, Shasta County District 5 Supervisor candidates Chris Kelstrom and Colt Roberts, Shasta County District 1 candidate Kevin Crye, and Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of Voters candidate Bob Holsinger.

Generally speaking, the anti-establishment candidates are favored by the extremist Red, White and Blueprint organization, and by association Reverge Anselmo, the son of a billionaire who seems hell bent on destroying Shasta County.

Strangely, though, Anselmo donated $4,900 to Browning’s campaign, even though Browning is part of the Shasta Vote group.

Plus, speaking of  Anselmo, Trish Clarke, someone who’s said to consider herself one of Anselmo’s BFFs, is promoting a Johnson meet-and-greet.

Of those “anti-establishment” candidates, Kelstrom walked away mad from a forum hosted by the Shasta Repubican Central committee and vowed that he and his simpatico candidates would not attend any forums hosted by the local GOP (referred to by Kelstrom and company as RINOs). Caples pulled the first forced flag/pledge stunt at the LWV May 3 forum. Holsinger did a repeat performance at the May 4 LWV forum. Crye copied Caples and Holsinger and steam-rolled over the May 5 LWV forum and asked everyone to stand and say the Pledge of Alliegence.

That brings us to Monday and the LWV-hosted Sheriff/Coroner candidates forum. The longer that forum went on, the more inquiring minds wondered why Greene seemed to have broken away from his anti-establishment brethrens’ flag-and-pledge shenanigans.

The answer never came. The forum ended at 7:45 p.m. The LWV moderator Susan Wilson thanked the crowd and the candidates, then asked everyone to leave quickly because the LWV members had just a few minutes to clear the room before the library closed at 8 p.m.

A second after I turned off my Facebook live stream video, Johnson picked up his microphone and said something unexpected.

He asked the crowd to join him in the Pledge of Alligence. He pointed to the left side of the room and said the flag was behind a door. Richard Gallardo, normally considered part of the anti-establishment group, hustled across the room to fetch the flag. Johnson said that he and Greene had failed to do the pledge, and he felt it was the men’s “patriotic duty” to lead the group in the flag salute.

Johnson turned to Wilson, the LWV moderator, and said his request for the pledge meant no disrespect to her and the League of Women Voters.

Sure. His statement amounts to someone letting their dog take a steamy dump on your lawn as you watched, and then say they meant no disrespect.

With that, Gallardo — one of Shasta County’s most alt-right, anti-establishment guys around — held the flag as Johnson, the assumed anti-anti-establishment candidate, led the pledge.

Richard Gallardo fetched the flag and held it for the Pledge of Allegiance Monday

The trio of League of Women Voters members who’d sat in the front row as time-keepers remained seated during the pledge. So did I. But by far, the majority of people in the community room followed Johnson’s request. They stood, hands over hearts, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

United, in unison.

So many questions: Did Greene know Johnson would take the lead on the pledge? Did they do rock, paper, scissors to decide who’d have the honors? Did Johnson conduct the pledge to ingratiate himself with some of the county’s most ultra-conservative voters? Is Gallardo, like Carlos Zapata, a Johnson supporter?

Most of all, will Redding’s League of Women Voters decide against future forums? Will the women endure more male patriots’ disrespectful forced flag salutes? Or will they intentionally host forums on their quest to empower voters and defend democracy, here in the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands.

Click here to see Part 1 of my Facebook live streaming video of the Shasta County District Attorney candidates forum.

Click here to see Part 2 of my Facebook live streaming video of the Shasta County District Attorney candidates forum.


If you appreciate journalist Doni Chamberlain’s reporting and commentary, please consider contributing to A News Cafe. Thank you. 

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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