If you’re a regular reader of A News Café, chances are you’ve already mailed in your ballot for the 2022 midterm elections. Perhaps your early voting was prompted by Proposition 1, the Right to Reproductive Freedom Act, which, if passed, will codify both the right to have an abortion and the right to contraception in California. The initiative was necessitated by the Trump-packed U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 evisceration of Roe v. Wade in July, which ended the federal right to choose an abortion that American women have possessed for the past 50 years.
Or perhaps after reading A News Café’s coverage of the tumultuous politics that have engulfed the country and Shasta County for more than two years, you felt safer mailing in your ballot from home rather than dropping it in the ballot box at your local Holiday Market or voting in person at your polling place.
If you haven’t voted yet, there’s still time to mail in your ballot, drop it at a ballot box, or vote in person on Tuesday, Nov. 8. You can find your ballot box or polling place on the Shasta County Elections website under the “Voter Information” tab.
No one can be blamed for feeling nervous about voting in public in these times. The recent assault on Paul Pelosi, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s 82-year-old husband, isn’t an aberration. It’s a continuation of the stochastic terrorist attacks that have been perpetrated by Trump supporters after being incited by the MAGA movement’s volatile rhetoric over the past seven years. Now they’re directly attacking democratic elections, intimidating voters and election workers across the country.
Suddenly, the act of voting has turned dangerous. In Arizona, armed civilians are guarding ballot boxes against non-existent “mules.” Florida’s election police arrested former prisoners, most of them Black, for voting illegally—after the state restored their right to vote.
Closer to home, on the night of the June primary election, local members of the MAGA movement physically menaced the Shasta County Registrar of Voters while election workers were attempting to do their jobs.
There have been reports of canvassers going door-to-door asking for voter registrations in an intimidating manner. Shasta County Registrar Cathy Darling Allen reports that her office has basically been under siege for the past two years.
That’s roughly about the time the SARS-CoV-2 surged into the United States in March 2020. At first, the general population was compliant with public health measures such as mask mandates, social distancing, hand-washing, and the closing of non-essential businesses. But by May a certain segment of the population was champing at the bit.
MAGA Republicans, evangelical Christians, anti-vaccination activists, and libertarian business owners morphed into what ultimately became the medical freedom movement. For them, requiring individual citizens to, say, wear a mask to prevent the infection and spread of a deadly airborne disease is literally an act of tyranny.
Locally, Shasta County District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh was among the first to bolt, encouraging his constituents to doff their masks and get a haircut in May 2020, directly contradicting state COVID-19 mandates. Following Baugh’s cue, the Cottonwood Rodeo was held on Mother’s Day, as usual, no masks or social distancing required, in defiance of state mandates prohibiting large outdoor gatherings.
The next month, Bethel Music performing artist and itinerant evangelical worship leader Sean Feucht held an unmasked concert at Sundial Bridge in Redding, again in direct violation of state mandates.
That August, after COVID-19 deniers disrupted several board of supervisors meetings in a row, restaurateur and former Marine Carlos Zapata delivered his infamous speech in which he threatened to turn his “combat skills” loose on the public if the board didn’t immediately rescind the state mandates.
In October, Shasta County “citizen journalist” Rich Gallardo attempted to arrest the entire board of supervisors during a board meeting. Sheriff deputies escorted him from the chambers.
Heading into the 2020 presidential election two years ago, Connecticut multimillionaire Reverge Anselmo — whose attempt to create a luxury resort, restaurant, and winery near Shingletown faltered a decade ago after repeated building code violations — donated $100,000 to Patrick Jones, the Tea Party-cum-MAGA candidate challenging incumbent District 4 Supervisor Steve Morgan.
One of three heirs to a billion-dollar satellite television empire, Anselmo has a history of donating to extreme libertarian causes such as Sen. Rand Paul’s Protect Freedom PAC. During the past two years, Anselmo has donated more than $1 million to ultraconservative Shasta County candidates and campaign committees. No other donor has come close. Thanks to Anselmo’s largesse, Jones easily defeated Morgan in the general election.
But Trump’s failure at the top of the 2020 Republican ticket spoiled the MAGA party nationally and locally. Trump’s refusal to accept the 2020 election results double-downed on denialism in a cult-like following already teeming with disbelief. Disbelief in science, especially medical science. Disbelief in journalists, the enemy of the people. Add to that the disbelief in election results, the essence of democracy itself.
Astonishingly, all of this disbelief and disinformation has been mainstreamed by MAGA media outlets that include the Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN broadcasting networks, conservative talk radio hosts such as Dan Bongino, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, and loathsome podcasters like former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Bannon was recently sentenced to four months in prison for contempt of Congress but remains free on bail pending his appeal. On a recent podcast, Bannon promised to hunt down Dr. Anthony Fauci and his family after Republicans win the midterms.
Is it any wonder that a Trump supporter, having been told thousands of times by the MAGA media that the election was stolen from Trump by Democrats, showed up on a Democratic leader’s doorstep wielding a hammer?
Rep. Doug LaMalfa cartoon by Phil Fountain.
Rightwing Birds of a Feather: Rep. Doug LaMalfa and Sen. Brian Dahle Seek Christian Vote
No north state politician has amplified Trump’s “stop the steal” message more than California Congressional District 1 Rep. Doug LaMalfa. LaMalfa, who’s running for reelection against Democratic contender Max Steiner, was a key proponent of Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen from him.
According to this mutating conspiracy theory, somehow President-elect Joe Biden, the Democratic Party, the Deep State, and Dominion Voting Systems cheated Trump out of his rightful victory. Scores of court cases, many of them overseen by Trump-appointed judges, have proved otherwise.
The falsehood led directly to the insurrection at the capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, which resulted in the deaths of five people, the injury of hundreds of Capitol Police officers, and temporarily delayed certification of the November election results. When the House and Senate reconvened, LaMalfa was one of 147 Republican representatives and senators who refused to certify the election results in two states, despite having no evidence to back up their claims.
At the time, the Redding Chapter of the League of Women Voters accused LaMalfa of violating his oath of office. A rice farmer who has consistently voted to cut the food stamps budget even as his family farming conglomerate collected $5.5 million in federal subsidies, LaMalfa courts his district’s large evangelical Christian component with his hard stances against abortion and LGBTQ rights and his strong support for unlimited gun rights and religious freedom—as long as you’re talking about the freedom of Handmaiden-style two-genders-only Christianity.
As a result of campaigning on cultural issues his entire political career, LaMalfa has delivered little if any real substance during his tenure in office. His constant carping about the U.S. Forest Service’s management of California’s forests hasn’t improved management or slowed the megafires that ravage the district annually. The Sites Reservoir and Shasta Dam Raise projects are still a long way off as we enter a third year of record drought. For too long LaMalfa’s denial of climate change has shortchanged the north state. He’s also on board with Republican plans to cut Social Security and Medicare should they win back the House majority.
That’s why A News Café is endorsing Army combat veteran and Democratic Party moderate Max Steiner for the CD-1 seat. Although the north state native is a devout Catholic, Steiner supports a woman’s right to choose. Like all of the candidates A News Café is endorsing, Steiner, who after his tour in Iraq earned a degree from UC Berkeley and pursued a career as a foreign service officer, brings a level of competence to the position that’s unmatched by his opponent.
“This election is not a choice between a Democrat and a Republican,” Steiner said in a recent forum with LaMalfa. “This election is a choice between reality and fantasy. I recognize that climate change is real, that election results are legitimate and that reproductive privacy saves women’s lives. My opponent denies all of these truths.”
Steiner is a long shot in a district that has voted nearly 60 percent Republican the past several election cycles. Could a blue wave of reproductive rights supporters push him to victory in this reddest of red districts?
Cross your fingers.
California District 1 State Sen. Brian Dahle also has his work cut out for him. The senator is taking on popular incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom, who easily survived a recall effort last year when 62 percent of voters said no to the recall.
Dahle, who once-upon-a-time presented himself as a sort of thinking-man’s LaMalfa, signaled a change in course in June 2019, when he publicly announced President Donald Trump was ordained by God at a “faith and values” townhall meeting hosted by Dahle and Bethel Church elder and then-Redding mayor Julie Winter.
This year, Dahle courted support from the aforementioned Bethel Music performing artist Sean Feucht, who after his unauthorized Sundial Bridge performance took his “Jesus Christ Superspreader” act on national tour. The right-wing Christian nationalist and COVID-19 denier also collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
Feucht, who moved from Redding to Orange County last year, made an unsuccessful bid for the CD-3 seat held by John Garamendi in 2018. His status as one of the charismatic evangelical Christian community’s most visible activists could help turn out the conservative Christian vote statewide for Dahle, who lacking Newsom’s money and gravitas, is going to need all the help he can get.
Newsom pummeled Dahle in a debate televised by KQED on Oct. 23. “Small government” ultraconservative Republicans like LaMalfa and Dahle box themselves in on statewide races because they don’t believe government can help solve problems like homelessness, the lack of health care in rural areas or climate change. They complain about electric cars—27 percent of EV owners are Republicans—but offer no alternative solutions to address the climate crisis. The more-articulate Newsom rattled off program after program for every problem the KQED hosts presented him, noting that Dahle had voted no on most of them. The governor’s demolition job on Dahle on nearly every issue was akin to watching “Mike Tyson’s Top 10 Knockouts.”
A News Café is endorsing Gov. Newsom, but the North State homeboy from Bieber in nearby Lassen County will no doubt do well in Shasta County. Dahle’s performance statewide will be useful for gauging the level of evangelical political support in California, just as Steiner’s performance against LaMalfa in CD-1 may give us a handle on how many Republicans who haven’t gone full MAGA are left.
Dahle’s wife, Megan Dahle, currently sits in the state Assembly District 1 seat formerly occupied by her husband. She’ll easily defeat underfunded Democratic candidate Belle Starr Sandwith. The Dahles live in Lassen County but somehow having both of them in the Legislature at the same time wasn’t enough to prevent the closure of the California Correctional Center in Susanville next year, costing their county hundreds of jobs.
Safety and Sanity at Stake in Shasta County Supervisor Races
To understand why the races for Shasta County Districts 1 and 5 races are so pivotal, it’s necessary to rewind through the past two years.
As newly elected District 4 Supervisor Jones joined the board in January 2021, anger generated by Trump’s Big Lie and the ongoing COVID-19 mandates manifested itself locally in an effort to recall District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti, District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty and District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert, ostensibly for following the state’s mandates as required by law during an officially declared public health emergency.
Supervisors Baugh and Jones openly supported the recall and taunted their more-moderate Republican colleagues with juvenile performative stunts designed to undermine COVID-19 precautions taken in the board chambers as required by the state mandates.
Terry Rapoza, a leading figure in the State of Jefferson secessionist movement, was one of the first MAGA Republicans to call for Chimenti, Moty, and Rickert’s recall.
SOJ adherents believe they’ve been betrayed by politicians in Sacramento and Salem and seek to form a 51st state comprised of rural counties in northern California and southern Oregon. It’s a fantasy that will never happen, but Rapoza sells a lot of hats and T-shirts.
For a closer look at SOJ, readers may consult Chico State University history professor and A News Café contributor Shawn Schwaller’s three-part series on the SOJ here, here, and here.
At about the same time in early 2021, Carlos Zapata joined forces with Jeremy Edwardson — Christian musician/Bethel-affiliated music producer — to form Red, White and Blueprint, a propagandistic docuseries that recorded the recall effort to supposedly provide other counties with a blueprint for recalling their elected public officials. A News Café reviewed all eight episodes of the RWB docuseries from its premier in March 2021 to its untimely demise one year later.
The docuseries leaned heavily on Zapata’s machismo and featured appearances by Jones, Baugh, Baugh’s barber/Cottonwood militia commander Woody Clendenen, Anselmo, and an assortment of local rightwing extremists. Zapata even covered his own involvement in an assault on Nathan Pinkney, a local satirist who had dared to criticize RWB online. Zapata was convicted for misdemeanor disturbing the peace last year and was recently in the news for allegedly threatening to kill another online critic.
Anselmo pumped more than $400,000 into the recall effort, which only managed to collect enough signatures to recall Moty.
Last February, according to the recall’s curious calculus, a majority of District 2 voters agreed Moty should be recalled. Moty was replaced by Happy Valley Elementary School Board member Tim Garman, even though more people chose to keep veteran public servant Moty than voted for the inexperienced Garman.
Garman joined Baugh and Jones to form the board’s new hyper-conservative 3-2 majority, with Chimenti and Rickert now constituting the centrist minority. The trio, Baugh, Jones, and Garman, known to some as Los Tres Pendejos, immediately got to work dismantling Shasta County Health and Human Services, forcing the early retirement of director Donald Ewert and firing public health officer Dr. Karen Ramstrom. Former Shasta County CEO Matt Pontes left for a job with Sierra Pacific after Jones’s ham-fisted attempt to extort Pontes over a criminal charge in his youth that had previously been expunged blew up in the District 4 supervisor’s face like a cartoon cigar.
Both Jones and Baugh have used their bully pulpits to promote a hard right agenda that so far has included torpedoing LGBTQ Pride Month, spreading election denialism, and declaring California will become the death capital of the world if Prop. 1 passes and the right to an abortion and contraception is codified in state law.
That’s where the board sits now; with a 3-2 MAGA majority, heading into the midterm election with two seats up for grabs: The centrist Republican Chimenti is vacating the district 1 seat after just one term; the religious zealot Baugh is retiring after serving four terms, 16 years in the District 5 seat.
Anselmo plowed another $400,000 into the June primary election funding a slate of rightwing candidates that included District 1 candidate Kevin Crye, District 5 candidate Chris Kelstrom, district attorney candidate Erik Jensen, schools superintendent candidate Bryan Caples and county clerk/registrar of voters candidate Bob Holsinger.
One thing became immediately apparent once the stage was set for the primary: Laying rightwing politics aside, the Anselmo slate candidates lacked the qualifications of their establishment competitors.
District 1 candidate Erin Resner is co-owner with her husband of the local Dutch Bros franchise and has served on the Redding City Council for the past four years.
Kevin Crye is a gym owner and sports agent who has never run for an elected position or served in public office.
District 5 candidate Baron Browning is the CEO of Spherion Staffing, a local temporary agency, and co-owner of Ardent Security, which provides security at concerts and other venues.
He has served two terms on the Anderson City Council and is the current mayor. Kelstrom works as a salesman for a national distributor of uniforms and safety equipment.
Like Crye, Kelstrom has never run for an elected position, or served in public office.
Crye finished second out of three candidates to Resner in the District 1 primary and earned a spot in the general election because Resner didn’t gain more than 50 percent of the vote. Kelstrom finished second to Browning in a five-person contest and also earned a spot on the November ballot.
In the June primary election’s most stunning development, Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgette, Schools Superintendent Judy Flores and County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen easily defeated their less experienced male rivals, as local voters soundly rejected rightwing extremism.
Naturally, our local extremists, who imagine they’re conservative populist warriors battling Shasta County’s RINO establishment, called for a recount of the primary election results—until they found out they’d have to pay for it.
Heading into the midterm election, the two supervisor races are too close to call, especially with the absence of any polling. If both Crye and Kelstrom win their contests, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors will have a 4-1 MAGA majority and the destruction of local public institutions will continue apace.
If both Resner and Browning win, the board will shift back to the 3-2 moderate Republic majority that existed before Moty’s recall.
Shasta County’s future hangs in the balance.
Stay tuned for Part 2.