Unprecedented Redding City Council Race: Will Bethel & Stirring Church Members Become Council Majority?

Redding City Hall

Redding is teetering upon the unprecedented brink of being governed by a city-council majority comprised of followers of Bethel Church, The Stirring church or a combination of both.

One Bethel Church elder, Julie Winter, is already on the Redding City Council, with two years left in her term.

Julie Winter, Redding City Council member/Bethel Church elder

The 10 following candidates are competing for three available Redding City Council seats. (Click on names for more information about each candidate.)

  1. Tenessa Audette, age 45, Representative for Senator Brian Dahle 
  2. James Crockett, age 41, Social science teacher 
  3. Michael Dacquisto, age 68, Redding City Council incumbent
  4. Ian Hill, age 30, Shasta County deputy clerk
  5. Joshua Johnson, age 39, Business owner/developer
  6. Jack Munns,age 64, Retired police officer
  7. Marcus Partin,age 69, Business owner
  8. Alex Shea, age 36, Housing finance executive
  9. Jordan Valenzuela, age 30, Business owner
  10. Kymberly Vollmers, age 41, Educator

Of those 10 candidates, three are current Bethel Church members, and three are members of The Stirring Church, including one who’s a former Bethel Church member.

The trio of Redding City Council candidates who attend Bethel Church are Audette, Shea and Munns.

The trio of Redding City Council candidates who attend The Stirring church are Joshua Johnson, Kymberly Vollmers and former Bethel member James Crockett.

Both Bethel Church and The Stirring are noteworthy because The Stirring is often described as “Bethel lite” or Bethel’s little-sister church.

With 10 city council candidates competing for three seats in the Nov. 8 general election, it’s a contentious game of political musical chairs.

Mayor Kristen Schreder declined to run for re-election. And Redding City Council member Resner decided to run for the Shasta County Board of Supervisors District 1 seat being vacated by Supervisor Joe Chimenti, who opted against running for re-election.

District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti

The Redding City Council seat that belongs to non-evangelical councilor, Mark Mezzano, is his to keep for another two years, alongside Winter.

It’s not so easy for incumbent Dacquisto, who is trying with all his might to prevent an energetic pack of young evangelical candidates from overtaking Dacquisto and stealing his chair during his run for re-election.

Bethel and the Seven Mountain Mandate

In a normal county, candidates’ religious beliefs wouldn’t/shouldn’t be relevant in local elections. In fact, in most places it would be considered impolite and inappropriate to ask about candidates’ religious lives.

But Shasta County is anything but normal. Colossal understatement.

If you are new here, or if you just fell off a turnip truck, Bethel Church is a world-famous Redding mega-church that boasts more than 10,000 members. Each year, thousands of believers come from every corner of the globe to worship at Bethel, or spend thousands of dollars to enroll in its three-year-long Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.

Bethel’s slogan, “On earth, as it is in heaven,” directs its believers to infiltrate every aspect of their communities. Their roadmap, the Seven Mountain Mandate, influences how believers approach politics and culture. The seven mountains are education, religion, family, business, government/military, arts/entertainment and media.

While the Seven Mountain Mandate is controversial — even among many Christian denominations — for Bethel devotees, it’s considered gospel. Literally. Lead Bethel pastor Bill Johnson has written all about it in his book, “Invading Babylon, The Seven Mountain Mandate.

Bethel Church and The Stirring: Connections galore

Granted, The Stirring lacks Bethel Church’s flashy “signs and wonders” fixation on everything from speaking in tongues, healings, tunnels of fire, and gold-dust glory clouds to angel feathers, grave-soaking, gay-conversion therapy and attempts to raise the dead.

However, as much as some members of The Stirring church might like to distance themselves from Bethel Church’s dramatic spiritual feats, it’s indisputable that The Stirring and Bethel Church are Christian kissin’ cousins. The two churches sometimes share resources, facilities, musicians, staff and speakers.

For example, when The Stirring held a preachers conference, among the slate of speakers were BSSM staff member Hayley Braun, and Pastor Tinasha LaRaye, a frequent Bethel speaker and performer.

Connecting yet more Bethel/Stirring dots, Nathan Edwardson is The Stirring church pastor. He’s also the brother of Jeremy Edwardson, the director/producer of the Red, White and Blueprint movement/docuseries that helped splinter the already heavily conservative Shasta County into ultra conservative “take back Shasta County” factions. Since then, the North State is still in recovery over the dirty recall of a stellar supervisor, the baseless firing of the county’s chief health officer and the resignation of a blackmailed CEO.

Within the last two tumultuous years, Jeremy Edwardson partnered with a seemingly unlikely docu-series collaborator: militia-member, former-strip-club-owner Carlos Zapata, known for “blood in the streets” violent rhetoric that briefly thrust Zapata into fleeting, international alt-right celebrity status.

From left, Red, White and Blueprint co-collaborators Jeremy Edwardson and Carlos Zapata. Photo: KRCR video screengrab.

Plus, Jeremy Edwardson is a producer for Bethel Church-affiliated musician/failed congressional candidate/evangelical egomaniac Sean Feucht, dubbed by the Rolling Stone magazine as Jesus Christ, Super Spreader for his national protest/worship concerts held during the pandemic.

Feucht kicked off his first unauthorized Let Us Worship event beneath the Sundial Bridge in Redding. Thousands of people attended, the majority of whom were members of Bethel Church and The Stirring. This became apparent after I wrote the story about it and was scolded by Bethel’s then-communications person for not mentioning that many of those in attendance were from The Stirring, too. Duly noted. Correction made.

Let Us Worship participants, many from Bethel Church and The Stirring church, crowd around Sean Feucht and musicians. Photo by Steve DuBois.

There’s more evidence of collaboration between The Stirring Church and Bethel Church, but you get the idea. We’re here to discuss the Redding City Council election.

The non-Bethel/non-Stirring Candidate Conundrum

One of the most frequent election questions posed recently on North State social media sites pertains to whether candidates do or do not attend Bethel Church or The Stirring.

Some of the replies are incorrect, such as the widely-reported assumption that candidate Johnson is a Bethel Church member. When A News Cafe contacted Johnson last week for clarification, he replied that he and his family have attended The Stirring for eight years.

Many “Buck Fethel” citizens vehemently believe that Bethel Church in particular will lead to the North State’s eventual downfall.

‘Buck Fethel’ shirt by Nathan the Creator.

As a result, followers of such anti-Bethel Facebook pages as Investigating Bethel (924 members) and Bethel Affiliated Businesses (1.8 mil members) have vowed to shun Bethel/Stirring candidates and choose only from the remaining candidates.

The problem with this rigid strategy is that generally speaking, once Bethel and Stirring-related candidates are removed from the playing field, the remaining choices are inoffensively OK at best, and stunningly out-to-lunch at worst.

Behold, Redding City Council candidate choices: (Click on their names for more information.)

James Munns

Jack Munns is one of three Bethel Church members running for the Redding City Council. Based upon his performance during forums (though absent from the Shasta Environmental Alliance event), he seems a nice enough, grandfatherly guy. Even so, his campaign is lackluster, with just a smattering of campaign signs, and to date, few to none endorsements.

However, Munns does have one interesting detail that sets him apart from the rest of the candidates: He spearheaded in Reno an award-winning homeless-assistance program that he believes could work in Redding. With that kind of success, it would be waste of talent and experience to not tap him as a resource to create a similar Redding program.

James Crockett

James Crockett, who says he’s a former Bethel Church member, is now a member of The Stirring. He ran for a seat on the Redding City Council in 2018, but lost. He’s back for more, and once again, he hasn’t asked for anyone to endorse him, or to donate money to his campaign, because he doesn’t want to be beholden to any person or organization.

Crockett has impressively watched/endured every city council meeting since 2017. When Crockett quips that he’s attended more city council meetings in these last few years than incumbent Dacquisto, that line always gets a laugh, but it’s no joke.

In many ways, Crockett is a bright outlier in this race; but also someone who can come across as somewhat prickly at times. For example, during one of the forums, when asked how he would deal with homelessness, Crockett addressed the audience, flipped the question and asked what they’d done. He later explained his point, that homelessness is a community problem, not a government problem.

Ian Hill

Earnest deputy county clerk Ian Hill falls into a “bless his pea-pickin’ heart” category. He’s one of two 30-year-old Redding City Council candidates; a gentle spirit who jumped naïvely into the deep end of an election pool in which he is in waaaay over his head. (He probably knows it.)

If he does have campaign signs, they must be hidden in secret locations. Like Munns, Hill seems a good guy who truly wants to make a difference. But he lacks endorsements, and his social media pages look like neglected, empty warehouses decorated with some ’60s-era posters that fit perfectly with his slogan, “Chill with Hill”.

Aside from not attending either Bethel Church or The Stirring, another noteworthy distinction is that Hill is the only Democrat in the race, which tells you everything you need to know about Shasta County politics.

Although I’m a Democrat, for me, a shared party is not reason enough to vote for someone as politically out of touch and woefully inexperienced as Hill.

Kymberly Vollmers

This is Vollmers’ second try at elected office. The last go-round she was running for the Shasta County District 1 race, but she dropped out mid-race, citing a lack of financial resources that would enable her to compete with the other well-funded candidates. Her timing sucked, because she made her announcement shortly before the June election, but after the ballots had gone to press. That meant that some people threw their votes away on Vollmers, who endorsed Erin Resner, someone currently embroiled in an extremely heated run-off against opponent Kevin Crye in next month’s election. (Stay tuned for that story soon.)

By the way, Resner attends The Stirring.

On the plus side, Vollmers has fairly lively, updated social media pages. She’s participated in all the candidate forums. She’s engaged with the public. On the negative side there’s that yawning gap in her leadership experience; a chasm too large for Vollmers to leap over and propel herself onto the dais as a qualified city council member.

The additional negative news is that Vollmers’ social media pages suggest her comfort with election-fraud conspiracy theories, such as those promoted in the film [S]election Code, produced by My Pillow Guy Mike Lindell.

Jordan Valenzuela

Like Vollmers, Valenzuela’s social media posts suggest a mindset aligned with election-deniers.

Slight segue, but Vollmers’ and Valenzuela’s distrust in the election system begs the question: If the women win, will they accept the election results as valid? If they lose, will they cry fraud?

But forget election-deniers for a moment. Even if Valenzuela hadn’t liked [S]election Code on her Facebook page, the fact remains that Valenzuela — like Hill and Vollmers — lacks even a modicum of experience necessary to be an effectively qualified council member.

Add to the information pile the fact that Valenzuela, one of the youngest candidates at age 30, is one of three Redding City Council candidates recommended by Kathy Stainbrook, a notorious ultra-right Red, White and Blueprint supporter, and Leonard Moty recaller.

Frankly, there’s an unfortunate campaign trait shared by Vollmers, Hill and Valenzuela: Although they can accurately identify Redding’s problems — homelessness, crime, water issues, mental illness, housing shortages, etc. — the three fall flat when it comes to suggesting tangible, realistic solutions for those problems.

Marcus Partin

In this election cycle, one of the things that candidate Marcus Partin has become most known for is as Michael Dacquisto’s sidekick candidate. At every forum I’ve attended, Dacquisto has made a shameless plug for his pal Partin.

Pity Partin, who’s a respected professional in his own right. The way Dacquisto drags Partin behind him reminds me how my mom insisted I bring my little sister along to birthday parties when we were kids; invited or not.

Dacquisto’s now-predictable Partin endorsements usually include Dacquisto’s mention that one of the reasons he endorses Partin is because Dacquisto is sick of being on the losing end of so many 3-2 or 4-1 votes.

Incumbent Michael Dacquisto posted on Facebook a photo of his completed ballot marked with just two Redding City Council selections.

Dacquisto delivers that line with a chuckle, but his meaning is serious: Dacquisto and Partin will vote in tandem.

Interestingly enough, I’ve yet to hear Partin ask voters to cast their votes for Dacquisto.

Aside from being Dacquisto’s two-fer candidate, you may recall Partin from his ambitious 2012 Wine Village plan that never panned out.

It’s notable that Partin, like Valenzuela, has also been identified and selected as a “true conservative” candidate by some of the same ultra-conservative folks who’ve embraced Dacquisto.

Michael Dacquisto, incumbent

Editor’s note: This section was revised on 10/20/22 for corrections.

Michael Dacquisto is the only incumbent candidate, and he’s struggling to keep his footing upon a slippery slope studded with loopholes, gray areas and alleged white lies.

Clearly, there’s no love lost between Dacquisto and his three female city council colleagues, Erin Resner, Julie Winter and Mayor Kristen Schreder. The four have disagreed over everything from land issues and staff raises to homeless solutions and even holiday lights at Turtle Bay Museum.

One of the most persistent criticisms against Dacquisto has to do with what should be a simple question: “Michael Dacquisto, where do you live?”

His answer matters, because if he lives in Mt. Shasta — where the couple owns a spacious view-lot — if that’s his main residence, then Dacquisto cannot legally sit on the Redding City Council.

Riddle me this: Pretend you are a retired lawyer, and you have a beautiful Siskiyou County home, and a vacation get-away in Mexico. Now pretend you also own a tiny apartment over a garage behind your old legal office in downtown Redding between the railroad tracks and Court Street.

Which of those three domains would you assume is Dacquisto’s true residence?

We’ll just leave that there while we ponder the easy answer.

Dacquisto was recently quoted in a newspaper story with words that may eventually come back to haunt him: “If people don’t think I participate enough and want someone to do more, then they should vote for that candidate.”

Bingo! Candidate Johnson agrees wholeheartedly. In fact, Johnson agrees so much that he took to Facebook with an accounting of the some of the most damning charges against Dacquisto in a post that pretty much summarizes Johnson’s stance, “I voted for Michael Dacquisto 4 years ago. Now I’m not.”

Below are excerpts from Johnson’s post of accusations against Dacquisto:

  • A lack of effort put into the job of being an elected official.
  • Dacquisto may have once been an active member in the community, but it is widely known locally that is no longer the case.
  • Absences: Dacquisto has missed a number of meetings, including closed session meetings, joint session meetings, RABA, Library, Housing, Capital Services, and Successor Agency meetings. These are all responsibilities of a city council member.
  • Votes “NO” without offering any solutions, vision, or alternative direction.

City of Redding insiders describe incumbent Dacquisto as weary and worn out. They say that judging by his frequent absences, it appears he no longer prioritizes his city council position.

Some people even draw parallels between Councilman Dacquisto and his broken website address. At first, to look at the un-clicked link, one might assume it’s an active, working site. But click on the link, and it’s soon apparent that there’s no there, there, and that site has been non-functioning for some time. Kind of like Dacquisto.

A winning trio

I’ve saved three candidates for last: Tenessa Audette, Joshua Johnson and Alex Shea.

Yes, Johnson attends the Stirring Church. Yes, Audette and Shea are Bethel Church members.

But after watching many hours of multiple candidate forums, and after spending entire days transcribing audio, trawling websites and doing deep dives into social media pages, I’ve reached a conclusion: Of the 10 Redding City Council candidates, Audette, Johnson and Shea appear the most qualified to serve as Redding City Council members. Their social media pages are meaty, informative and substantive. These three appear the most polished, most prepared, most experienced, most articulate and most accomplished.

A dear Democrat friend of mine, who’s voting only for Hill out of solidarity with his fellow progressive, said he finds Audette, Johnson and Shea just a bit too zealous for his liking.

I know what he means, because Audette and Shea in particular do come across a bit on the Up-With-People uber-perky side. But right now, after all the North State’s been through, Redding could benefit from some youthful zeal.

Listen to Johnson speak and tell me you’re not impressed. Hear his TEDxRedding talk and tell me you hate his ideas about neighborhoods.

Listen to Shea’s story, and then tell me you’d reject this former Wall Street finance expert, the grandson of immigrants who fled Communist China.

Listen to Audette‘s desire to make Redding a safe, thriving city.

If you believe their statements — and I do — these three are enthusiastic in their dedication and genuine desire to make Redding a better place. They are young. They have creative ideas. They’ll show up and work hard.

Together, the trio has amassed hundreds of endorsements from the proverbial Who’s Who of Shasta County’s movers, shakers, makers, workers, creators, business people, educators, elected leaders, law enforcement and influencers.

What’s noteworthy is these endorsements are from a broad cross-section of individuals and organizations of all stripes and beliefs.

Between a church and a hard place

In a few short weeks we’ll learn one of two things: Either the Redding City Council will make history as the first council comprised of a majority of Bethel/Stirring Church members, or the fed-up-with-Bethel citizens will rise up and prevail with anyone-but-Bethel votes.

Do I feel fantastic about my conclusion? Not by a Shasta County country mile.

I confess to suffering significant election heartburn with the knowledge that Audette was Winter’s former campaign manager, and that Audette received more than $15,000 in campaign consulting fees from Sean Feucht’s failed congressional campaign in 2019 and early 2020, along with $2,800 in reimbursements.

My heartburn worsened after watching Audette’s guest appearance on Bethel top-gun pastor Kris Vallotton’s podcast, where Audette discusses, among other things, God’s role in government and if politicians should Christianize a nation.

No Winter of discontent

I recall my concerns/fears/disappointment when Julie Winter first won a seat on the Redding City Council.

I waited and watched Winter carefully for signs that she’d wear Bethel on her sleeve. She didn’t. In fact, aside from the times she recused herself to avoid even the perception of a conflict, as far as I know, Winter never uttered the the word “Bethel”.

Although I don’t always agree with Winter, there’s no disputing that Winter’s been a responsible, dedicated and dependable city council member.

The same observation is true for Resner, a member of The Stirring.

That’s why, for this 2022 general election, I will overlook candidates’ religious affiliations. Instead, I make my selections based upon candidates’ backgrounds, experience, endorsements, creativity, tenacity, enthusiasm, ideas, energy, and the amount of work they’ve invested in their campaigns.

I say this, even though I am loath to live in a city governed by a majority of any one group. The sobering reality is that Redding voters are backed against a Bethel wall with some tough questions:

Do I wish, for the sake of a more balanced election playing field, that the Redding City Council race wasn’t flooded with candidates who attend The Stirring or Bethel Church? Absolutely.

But humor me for a moment, and set aside knowledge of candidates who attend The Stirring and Bethel Church. Of the 10 Redding City Council candidates, who would get your vote if you were ignorant of their religious affiliations?

Is it religiously intolerant to reject the most obviously qualified candidates solely because of the churches they attend, and their religious practices inside those churches?

Is it fair to criticize any candidate who has the courage, confidence, vision and chutzpah to run for city council, board of supervisors, or any number of school boards or water districts?

But most of all, at what point will citizens who feel distraught by what they classify as lousy election options stop complaining and run for office themselves?

I’m not religious. I don’t understand Catholic incense, midnight mass, Mormon underwear or Jehovah Witnesses’ disdain for celebrating birthdays, Thanksgiving or other wonderful events.

And even though I attended Bethel Church in my youth, way back in its early Assemblies of God days, there remain many, many things I will never understand about Bethel Church.

But that’s a topic for another day.

In the meantime, pass the Alka Seltzer. No gold dust, please.

If you appreciate journalist Doni Chamberlain’s reporting and commentary, 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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