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Competence is the Only Issue that Matters in Shasta County Primary Races

Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen once taught me a valuable lesson. I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18, and after four decades, voting had become perfunctory in nature to me, something I took for granted. Until Darling Allen’s office rejected my mail-in ballot in the 2018 midterm election.

I’ll admit I panicked when I got the notice in the mail shortly before Election Day. My signature on the ballot didn’t match any of my signatures on file with the county; consequently, as the notice informed me, my vote wouldn’t count until I corrected the issue. I was given until Nov. 19 to comply.

I was quite distraught with this temporary disenfranchisement, but a quick call to the registrar’s office assuaged my concern. It turned out I’d made the common mistake of neatly signing my full name as printed on the ballot instead of using my usual indecipherable signature. I sent in the correction and was later able to verify through the registrar’s web page that my vote had indeed been counted.

Imagine that: A government agency that performs efficiently! My errant signature was plucked from out of 70,000 ballots cast in Shasta County during the 2018 midterms. After I mailed in the correction, my ballot was promptly registered. That’s the sort of professionalism Darling Allen has brought to the clerk/registrar’s office during her 17 scandal-free years of service. She’s earned the respect of her peers and the public alike.

The lesson I learned from the registrar’s rejection of my ballot was that after decades of taking my right to vote for granted, the franchise remains extremely important to me. I was surprised by the intensity of my emotions. I apparently haven’t succumbed to the voter apathy that infects much of America, including Shasta County, where just 46.83 percent of the electorate, less than half, turned out for the 2018 midterm primary election.

If Darling Allen is to keep her job, a lot more voters than that need to turn out in Shasta County by Tuesday, June 7.

Vote for Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen, Superintendent of Schools Judy Flores and District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett before June 7.

Darling Allen, as well as Shasta County Superintendent of Schools Judy Flores and Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett, have all been targeted by Liberty Committee, the political action committee funded by Connecticut son-of-a-billionaire Reverge Anselmo to the tune of $400,000.

Anselmo, whose attempt to develop a restaurant, ranch and winery near Shingletown flopped a decade ago after he failed to secure the proper building permits, has vowed to avenge himself on Shasta County, which successfully counter-sued him for $1 million. Since 2020, when he donated $100,000 to right-wing gun store employee Patrick Jones’ successful campaign for the District 4 supervisor seat, Anselmo has spent more than $1 million funding flag-waving fascist candidates in Shasta County.

These candidates haven’t been chosen for their practical skills. They’ve been cherry-picked for their fealty to former President Donald Trump’s Big Lie about the stolen election and the dictates of the anti-science “medical freedom” movement that has arisen in reaction to public health efforts to slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic that began in early 2000 and continues to surge around the world.

Consider Robert Holsinger, the retired utility manager challenging Darling Allen for the clerk/registrar office. Holsinger has participated as an election observer in Shasta County for the Election Integrity Project California, or EIPCa, for the past four election cycles. In 2021, EIPCa falsely claimed there were 1.8 million ineligible voters in California, bolstering Trump’s Big Lie about the stolen election. Last June, The Los Angeles Times called the group delusional in a brutal editorial:

“Earlier this year, the group and 13 failed GOP congressional candidates sued the state of California, citing ‘mass irregularities and opportunities for fraud’ — basically the same Big Lie that former President Trump and his supporters continue to flog without a whit of evidence. Last week, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit because there was just no there there. A better name for this group would be ‘the Elections Delusion Project.’”

Delusions can be useful. The Big Lie has convinced the Trump wing of the Republican Party that our election systems are rigged; candidates such as Holsinger promise they’ll restore the public’s faith in the system—faith they’ve deliberately undermined with false claims about election fraud. As an observer of the past four elections in Shasta County, Holsinger has failed to uncover a single case of voter fraud.

Incredibly, he continues to claim that if elected he will replace the county’s Dominion Voting Systems machines in mid-contract, even though Dominion has mounted multiple defamation lawsuits against FOX News, OAN and other right-wing media outlets that’ve falsely claimed the machines were hacked and votes were flipped from Trump to Joe Biden during the 2020 election.

Echoing his paymaster Anselmo’s misogyny down the stretch—Anselmo recently told the Record Searchlight he considers women to be too emotional and “squishy” to hold elected office—Holsinger has released a new ad featuring the most unflattering photo of Darling Allen his campaign staff could find combined with the lie that she was rewarded by the board of supervisors with a pay raise for reconfiguring Shasta County’s five supervisorial districts in favor of former District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty.

Robert Holsinger misleading campaign ad attacking Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen.

The preposterous ad misleads voters by pretending two separate issues—redistricting and pay raises for public officials—discussed at a December board of supervisors’ meeting are related because they were adjacent on the calendar. They’re not related, and redistricting is not in Darling Allen’s purview; once again demonstrating Holsinger’s lack of knowledge about what the county clerk/registrar of voters office actually does. Holsinger has not responded to multiple queries from A News Café.

“On Dec 7, 2021, the board approved new boundaries for redistricting,” said Darling Allen said when asked about Holsinger’s false claim. “The next item on their agenda was a raise for all elected department heads, not just me. After no raises for 6 years, they had a big adjustment to make. At the end of the day, the authority to make boundary changes is in the hands of the board of supervisors. I didn’t make them do anything, that’s laughable.”

It might literally be laughable if the Shasta County Republican Party had a moral compass. Instead, it has endorsed Holsinger’s Big Lie agenda because Darling Allen isn’t a registered Republican. The county clerk/registrar of voters office is a nonpartisan position. The party, which has been dominant in Shasta County for four decades, knows very well the election system isn’t rigged, but endorsed Holsinger’s Big Lie anyway.

Even worse, the Shasta County GOP has endorsed the woefully unqualified Bryan Caples for Superintendent of Schools because current superintendent Judy Flores is not a registered Republican. This, despite the fact that last year Republican Sen. Brian Dahle selected Flores — who has 32 years of experience as an educator in Shasta County — as Woman of the Year in Senate District 1 for her efforts in returning students to in-class instruction during the pandemic. Like the registrar’s office, the Superintendent of Schools is a nonpartisan position.

The Shasta County Republican Party made no other endorsements because all the candidates in the remaining races are Republicans.

In a just world, Caples would be the proverbial candidate who couldn’t get elected dogcatcher. He’s been dismissed from the three previous school superintendent positions he’s held during the past decade, as first reported by A News Café in February. Other media outlets have since confirmed the story. He’s an open racist who falsely proclaims Critical Race Theory is being taught in Shasta County schools. He’s a COVID-19 denier who would never force a student to wear a mask, even if the student’s life (or his teacher’s life) was endangered.

And the Shasta County Republican Party endorsed him anyway.

According to Shasta County Elections, there are currently 112,219 registered voters in the county. Half of them, 55,665 voters, are Republicans. It’s unclear how many of those Republicans are so-called rational Republicans, and how many are full-blooded MAGA insurrectionists. There are 22,575 registered Democrats, comprising 23 percent of the electorate. Another 21,876 voters, 19 percent, are registered as no party preference. Some 9103 voters are classified as “other.”

I count myself in the no-party preference category. No matter what category you place yourself in, if you want to stop Holsinger, Caples and the rest of Anselmo’s slate of incompetent candidates, you’re going to have to vote by Tuesday, June 7. Don’t kid yourself and pretend your vote doesn’t count. It counts in this primary election, hugely.

Shasta County Supervisors Patrick Jones, Les Baugh and Tim Garman, AKA Los Tres Pendejos.

It’s impossible to understate just how important voting by Tuesday, June 7, is to Shasta County’s future. Thanks to low voter turnout—41.62 percent—in February’s recall election, dim bulb Tim Garman replaced lifelong public servant Leonard Moty in the District 2 supervisor position, even though fewer people voted to recall Moty than voted for Garman to replace him.

One of the first things right-wing supervisors Les Baugh and Patrick Jones did with their newfound three-vote majority was to initiate the destruction of Shasta County’s public health system by nudging Shasta County Health and Human Services Director Donnell Ewert into early retirement, and firing Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Ramstrom. This amounts to borderline criminal behavior during an ongoing pandemic.

And most recently, Shasta County CEO Matt Pontes announced his resignation after Jones allegedly threatened the county leader that he should quit, or Jones would publicize Pontes’ three-decades’ old legal incident – which Pontes had been forthcoming about during the hiring process.  At the time, Pontes didn’t bow to Jones’ threats and quit. Jones broadcast the information.

On Pontes’ on terms, he has quit.

Darkness has settled over Shasta County as Anselmo’s blood money flushes through the electoral system. Look no further than corporate workmen’s compensation attorney Erik Jensen’s revenge-fueled effort to unseat Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett.

Jensen’s campaign is being unofficially stage-managed by local defense attorney Shon Northam. Most of the trumped-up claims that Bridgett’s office has violated the Brady Rule numerous times and failed to prosecute this or that egregious case emanate from Northam, who would have voters believe he’s come out vehemently against Bridgett during the past several months, thanks to the kindness in his heart and his own objective observations.

But it looks like Northam is on the Anselmo/Liberty Committee payroll too, at least indirectly. In May, Northam’s legal secretary/girlfriend, Melissa Madrigal, was paid $5100 to conduct opposition research by Liberty Committee, according to the PAC’s most recent campaign finance statement. Madrigal’s surname is misspelled “Madriga” on the document. Northam and Madrigal apparently have a child together, according to photos on her Facebook page. The present state of their relationship is unclear.

Details of Liberty Committee form 460 showing payments made to “Melissa Madriga” for opposition research.

Northam, Madrigal and Liberty Committee principal Mark Kent did not return A News Café’s queries about the $5100 paid to Madrigal for opposition research. On Friday morning, the day after A News Café’s last attempt to contact Northam, the defense attorney showed up at the studio of Free Fire Radio in downtown Redding and attempted to interrupt host Carl Bott’s on-air interview with Bridgett.

Northam requested that Bott permit him to debate Bridgett on the spot. Bott told A News Café that he denied Northam’s request and told him to call into the show like everybody else. Northam continued to record the entire interview through the studio’s window facing the street. It’s the type of intimidation that’s become commonplace this election season.

“I was very surprised at the unprofessional behavior of Mr. Northam outside the KCNR studios,” Bridgett told A News Café. “I was discussing my campaign, not him. We may disagree, but we should be able to do so with respect and professionalism.”

Due to the volatile political climate in Shasta County, attorneys on both sides of the aisle contacted by A News Café for comment requested anonymity. All of the attorneys expressed respect for Northam as a defense lawyer but have puzzled over his recent behavior in court and in public. One lawyer said it was difficult to determine who Northam was representing; his clients or DA candidate Jensen.

Jensen has said if he’s elected, he will hire qualified assistants to make up for his lack of criminal trial experience. Northam currently serves as a defense attorney, but he began his career as a prosecutor and could be just the assistant Jensen is looking for. A permanent position in the DA’s office might represent a financial step-up for Northam. All of this is conjecture, since Northam hasn’t responded to A News Café’s questions on these issues.

The fact that Jensen, who declined to respond to this reporter’s previous inquiry, lacks any prosecutorial experience and requires additional assistants if he happens to get elected should give voters from all political persuasions pause. Why hire someone who requires years of on-the-job training when DA Bridgette, who has 20 years of experience as a prosecutor, has been competently carrying out the duties of her office for the past five years?

The same question can be asked of all the candidates on Anselmo’s Liberty Committee slate. Why replace the Woman of the Year with someone you wouldn’t hire to be dogcatcher (with all apologies to dogcatchers)? Why choose a candidate who falsely claims Shasta County’s election system is rigged to be the county clerk/registrar of voters?

The questions are rhetorical. In reality, there are no legitimate reasons for voters to choose Jensen, Caples and Holsinger over Bridgette, Flores and Darling Allen. In terms of skills and experience, the three female elected officials grossly outmatch their would-be male usurpers. It’s not even close.

But what the male candidates lack in skills they make up for in Reverge revenge bucks. Their names and faces have been plastered all over social media, the internet, radio and television in advertisements paid for by Anselmo’s Liberty Committee. These beneficiaries of a billionaire’s bilious largesse unironically call themselves anti-establishment candidates. They unanimously clamor for transparency but have declined to respond to A News Café’s repeated inquiries.

Don’t be fooled by the bright shiny objects. Whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, a Green or have no party affiliation at all, competence matters. The candidates offered up by Anselmo’s Liberty Committee are clearly incompetent, and that’s by design. Anselmo doesn’t intend to “restore” Shasta County. He aims to tear it down. The county’s 112,219 registered voters are the last obstacle standing in his way.

Vote accordingly.

Meanwhile, Cathy Darling Allen has an election to run, even as she defends her office. Once again, she has a lesson to impart: When the going gets rough, suck it up and do your job.

“First of all, no matter who or what issue is on ballot, the law is applied by my office in the same way, and every election is conducted without bias,” Darling Allen said.

“That’s an essential part of the process—that the administrators stay objective and fair to all sides. My office has an extremely competent and effective team; I’m very grateful to be surrounded by an exemplary group of professionals who are doing the heavy lifting for this election, as I am on ballot with opposition.”

“I’m deeply concerned that the false allegations my opponent is throwing around are damaging the process of how elections are conducted,” she continued. “It’s so much more important that my constituents believe in our country and the elections process, than that my ego be soothed. If we collectively do not believe that we have a free and fair process in place now, we are in trouble.”

Just how much trouble we’re in we’ll find out after Tuesday.

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If you value journalist R.V. Scheide’s reporting and commentary, please consider supporting A News Cafe. Thank you!

R.V. Scheide

R.V. Scheide is an award-winning journalist who has covered news, politics, music, arts and culture in Northern California for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in the Tenderloin Times, Sacramento News & Review, Reno News & Review, Chico News & Review, North Bay Bohemian, San Jose Metro, SF Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, Alternet, Boston Phoenix, Creative Loafing and Counterpunch, among many other publications. His honors include winning the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Freedom of Information Act and best columnist awards as well as best commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists, California chapter. Mr. Scheide welcomes your comments and story tips. Contact him at RVScheide@anewscafe.com..

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