By Doni Chamberlain and RV Scheide
Shasta County citizens, buckle your seatbelts. We’re in for a tumultuous ride.
Last night, all across Shasta County, citizens, candidates and their supporters adjusted to the reality of the final results of the entire Midterm Election. However, in one of the most significant races, a pair of far-right candidates won both open seats on the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, resulting in an eventual hard-right 4-1 majority. This portends serious course changes that will touch every aspect of Shasta County government and its people’s well-being and way of life.
Consider that this self-identified “anti-establishment” majority will have power and authority over everything from CEO and health-officer hiring selections and the firing of at-will employees, to the new county jail’s design and location, and even issues outside their official purview regarding everything from shunning LGBTQ rights to endorsing open-carry legislation.
More about all that another time.
Today, ANC reflects upon other election results, in particular the highly competitive Redding City Council race.
As reported in ANC’s election postmortem, Part 1, after three weeks of suspense surrounding the results some key Shasta County election races, Shasta County’s ballots have been counted and the results are final. The only thing that would change those results would be a recount. So far, none is on the horizon.
RV and Doni’s election analysis
In this second segment of ANC’s two-part feature, journalists RV Scheide and Doni Chamberlain will discuss the election outcomes, and will weigh in with opinions, observations, projections and trends worth watching.
Bethel Church members form Redding City Council majority
A record-breaking 10 candidates competed for three available Redding City Council seats.
According to the final election results released Tuesday afternoon, the trio of candidates who won seats on the Redding City Council are incumbent Michael Dacquisto, joined by Redding City Council newcomers Tenessa Audette and Jack Munns.
Retired attorney/incumbent Dacquisto won 17.57 percent of the 77,290 votes, followed by Brian-Dahle staffer Tenessa Audette with 13.59 percent, followed by retired police sergeant Jack Munns, who received 12.01 percent.
Tuesday afternoon we received a definitive answer to ANC’s controversial question posed in October: Will Bethel and Stirring Church Members Become Council Majority? We have our answer; a resounding “yes”. That’s exactly what’s happened.
When departing city council members Mayor Kristen Schreder and Erin Resner exit the city council in January, Audette and Munns will join current Redding City Councilwoman and Bethel elder Julie Winter to form a 3-2 Bethel majority.
Taking the tally, Audette, Munns and Alex Shea are Bethel Church members. Candidates Joshua Johnson, Kymberly Vollmers and James Crockett are members of The Stirring Church (although Johnson and Crocket both previously attended Bethel). Together they made up a half-dozen candidates out of 10 candidates all vying for three open Redding City Council seats who were either Bethel members, or members of its kissin’ cousin – aka ‘Bethel lite’ (btw, ANC said it first) – The Stirring.
Dacquisto doesn’t belong to either of those denominations, and ran as a secular conservative libertarian. On social media, several voters said they voted for Dacquisto specifically because he lacked any affiliation with Bethel Church or The Stirring.
Also in Dacquisto’s favor were the strident “Buck Fethel” voters — people who believe Bethel Church is overtaking the North State. That group would pretty much vote for anyone except a Bethel or Stirring member.
Come January, Redding City Councilman Mark Mezzano and Dacquisto will constitute the non-Bethel minority.
Q: Will Michael Dacquisto cancel out the Redding City Council’s new Bethel majority?
Doni Chamberlain: No way. Dacquisto is just one council person, and the council will soon have three Bethel Church members on a five-member council. Do the math and it’s clear that Dacquisto and his fellow councilman Mezzano will be outnumbered.
However, in all fairness, we should give Bethel council members the benefit of the doubt, and not assume they will always vote in tandem. The answers will begin to reveal themselves in January, and from then on we can track the votes and see for ourselves whether the Bethel members are independent free-thinkers, or if they’ll govern with one voice.
How powerful is Redding’s anti-Bethel/Stirring movement? Michael Dacquisto’s win could hint at that answer. Consider that Dacquisto won, despite the fact that throughout his campaign he was hounded with still-unresolved questions about his true residency – Redding or Mt. Shasta?
One ANC reader’s comment expressed many voters’ opinions when she said she didn’t care where Dacquisto lived, because she thought he was the better candidate.
Would anyone be surprised to learn that many people voted for Dacquisto because of that video? No, that would not surprise me.
Munns was the dark horse, and he appeared to come out of nowhere. I don’t recall seeing one campaign sign with his name on it, or a single social media commercial. His Facebook page and website were stale, to the point of looking abandoned. But yet, he came in third, ahead of Johnson and Shea, candidates who presented as young, enthusiastic, experienced, sharp idea-machines.
Examine Munns more closely and we find four facts that helped cinch his win:
First, he’s a retired police officer in a region that’s pro-law enforcement.
Second, he’s a Bethel Church member. Bear in mind that with about 11,000 members, many of whom are registered to vote in Shasta County, Bethel has enough sub groups that it’s possible that Bethel members’ votes were scattered among Munns, Audette and Shea, and perhaps even among the Bethel-affiliated Stirring Church candidates, Johnson, James Crockett and Kymberly Vollmers.
Third, Munns boasts experience operating a successful homeless program in Reno. (I hope he can offer his assistance to help Shasta County’s homeless crisis.)
Finally, Munns was a favorite among many of the extra-rightwing residents, people like recall-pusher Kathy Stainbrook, who not only endorsed Munns, but promoted him on social media.
RV Scheide: Downtown Redding made visible progress with Schreder, Winter and Resner in the mix. There’s no reason why that progress can’t continue, but the new Bethel majority is sure to spark increased scrutiny of the local megachurch’s involvement in public affairs.
Expect Dacquisto, who has fashioned himself as a sometimes lonely “Dr. No” during his first term — voting against any project that might increase public spending — to continue playing the spoiler.
Doni Chamberlain: Back to me again? Cool.
One more thing I’ll say about the outcome of the Redding City Council race. I truly thought that youth, vitality and sophisticated campaigning would carry what appeared the clear winners over the finish line: Tenessa Audette, Alex Shea and Joshua Johnson.
RV Scheide: Let’s not forget Dacquisto’s lone vote in 2020 against the land sale that temporarily blocked the Redding Rancheria’s casino expansion. That vote took on renewed significance when a local judge declared the land sale illegal in May.
At the time, Dacquisto, a bankruptcy attorney, complained the sale was illegal. Now he looks like a prophet.
In an election where voters were gravitating toward anti-establishment candidates, you couldn’t buy better publicity than being the lone guy who voted against the billionaire and turned out to be right.
As far as I could tell from driving around and looking at signage, Audette, Shea and Johnson ran far more visible campaigns than Dacquisto. Johnson’s campaign advertisements were in high rotation on YouTube, even though I don’t live in Redding. Shea’s signs were ubiquitous; wherever I went. I expected him to win a seat based on his financial experience.
Dacquisto’s dramatically unfunny video critique of a local homeless man’s makeshift dwelling is Babylon Bee-level satire: It doesn’t work because it punches down. The video infuriated many people, but as mentioned above, there’s a sizeable local audience that finds degrading the down-and-out humorous.
At any rate, voters were apparently willing to overlook the video and Dacquisto’s well-publicized attendance and residency issues while serving on the council. It seems fairly clear that some voters chose the non-Bethel Dacquisto as a check on what turned out to be a Bethel majority comprised of Winter, Audette and Munns.
Should the secular community be concerned about the Redding City Council’s new Bethel majority? No more than it should be concerned about the megachurch’s ongoing efforts to monopolize the seven mountains of family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government in Shasta County.
Which is to say yes, we should be concerned about Bethel’s growing political influence. Church and state entanglement is high in Shasta County; spotting favoritism can be difficult. Just ask the folks in Clearwater, Florida, Scientology’s home.
In that sense, Dacquisto might serve as a much-needed fox in the henhouse; if the Redding City Council can still be called a henhouse. The council, like the board of supervisors, appears to have shifted to the right. Can Winter, Audette and Munns be considered moderate Republicans compared to Mezzano and Dacquisto? Or is it the other way around? Are there any hens in the house? Or is it all foxes?
Time will tell.
Doni Chamberlain: Wait, I do have one more thing to mention before we leave the Redding City Council conversation: Candidate Alex Shea, a former Wall Street finance guy. In fact during forums he only half-jokingly introduced himself as “your money guy”.
His financial background could have been a huge benefit to the Redding City Council, since most of the decisions have to do with money management.
Shea was polished, articulate and obviously knowledgeable. Perhaps, here in Shasta County he was hurt by what we mentioned in Part 1, about how superior candidates can sometimes make some voters feel inferior, such as in the case of Erin Resner and Baron Browning, who may have seemed unrelatable, especially to uneducated, economically disadvantaged voters.
I’ve given all the caveats possible for Shea’s loss, but I’ve heard mentioned throughout the campaign from a few people that perhaps voters rejected Shea because of his Chinese ancestry; that he doesn’t look like the average white Shasta County person. I’m hoping that’s not true. I’m just putting that out there, because since the election I’ve heard a few people mention racism as an explanation for why Shea wasn’t chosen. For that matter, I heard similar speculations regarding why community-dynamo Amarjit Singh lost his Anderson City Council race, too.
Although it’s an uncomfortable, disturbing conversation, the reality is that with few exceptions, Shasta County leadership faces are a sea of whiteness. It’s a racial-diversity travesty that people of color are so poorly represented in the North State. For that matter, the same is true of the lack of LGBTQ representation.
We can move on to the education races now, RV. Take it away.
Q: Will MAGA school board winners block public health measures and ban books?
RV Scheide: Just over a year ago, a portion of Shasta County’s teachers, students and healthcare workers staged a series of walkouts and protests against the state’s mask and vaccine mandates for schools and medical facilities. Mixed in with the furor over COVD-19 precautions was hysteria over the supposedly woke curriculum being taught in local schools.
None of this was really new. The anti-vaccine movement has been disinforming citizens for more than three decades. Conservative Christians have long complained about any mention of LGBTQ identity in mandatory sex education classes in schools.
But animated by the unshakeable belief that the 2020 election had been stolen from their savior, Donald Trump, and encouraged by pardoned Trump criminals such as Steve Bannon, medical freedom advocates stormed local school boards during the past year and if nothing else gave board members a piece of their mind with their flashing eyes, gnashing teeth and flaming rhetoric.
In Shasta County, Authur Gorman, the Mercy Medical Center RN/medical freedom advocate and election denier, became a familiar face at city council, county board of supervisor and school board meetings.
And self-proclaimed citizen journalist and general pest Rich Gallardo falsely accused school board members of breaking the law by following mandates. Both Gorman and Gallardo ran in a five-candidate race for two openings on the Shasta County Board of Education Area 2 in the general election.
In Millville, a small village adjacent to Palo Cedro, Whitney Hathaway, Taryn Ham and Beth Watt, a trio of soccer moms frustrated with COVID mandates and curriculum issues, also became familiar faces at school board meetings. The trio ran as a slate in the Millville Elementary School Board race. They declined to be interviewed by A News Café.
In a somewhat stunning result in the Shasta County Board of Education Area 2 race, Gorman finished first with 29.10 percent of the vote. Incumbent Steve MacFarland received 24.50 percent. Incredibly, considering the alleged citizen journalist has posted videos of himself providing disinformation to people waiting in line for COVID-19 vaccinations, Gallardo finished a close third with 20.37 percent of the vote.
Fortunately for Shasta County, only two seats were open.
Hathaway, Ham and Watt were the first to announce their candidacy for the Millville Elementary School District board, and the first to post signs in the Millville area. They easily took the top three positions in the race with respectively 23.74 percent, 21.43 percent and 24.33 percent of the vote.
Now the only question is, what will they do next?
Doni Chamberlain: You mentioned Gallardo. One of the most sobering realizations about Shasta County’s Nov. 8 election was the number of voters who actually voted for Gallardo for a seat on the Shasta County Board of Education.
As you can see in this screen grab, out of 61,513 votes, Gallardo received a whopping 12,539 votes; 20.38 percent overall. It boggles my mind that more than 12,000 people voted for Gallardo.
To quote Gallardo, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!”
Gallardo snagged an astounding third place –20.38 percent of the vote — in the “pick two” contest. We should all be grateful that there weren’t three available slots. We dodged a major Gallardo bullet.
I’m hoping that those voters who chose Gallardo were unaware of Gallardo’s stunts, antics and most memorable unhinged moments. Maybe they missed it when Gallardo, neck-veins bulging, would literally scream at supervisors during meetings.
Or perhaps they missed the board of supervisors meeting where Gallardo attempted a mass citizen’s arrest of Shasta County supervisors, staff and various department heads. He failed. Deputies escorted him from the chambers.
Or perhaps those voters who selected Gallardo didn’t see him in action the many times he impersonated a “citizen journalist” who routinely harassed patients and staff at COVID clinics.
Finally, perhaps they were unaware of Gallardo’s employment background, and the fact he lost his CalFire job for brandishing a weapon at work.
I mention all those points to illustrate that either the voters were woefully ignorant of Gallardo’s history, or they knew, they liked him, and they intentionally voted for him despite evidence that he is about the worst candidate option ever.
RV Scheide: I’ve been hearing the analogy of the dog that caught the car a lot this election cycle and it may apply to some of the winners of our local school board races.
It’s understandable that some teachers, healthcare workers and parents are upset about mask and vaccine mandates. The U.S. pandemic response has been maddingly erratic from the very beginning in March 2020, when the CDC falsely claimed we didn’t need N-95 masks to protect ourselves from an airborne virus. The lack of a coherent multi-layered approach with testing, masking and vaccination makes it easier for disinformation artists to derail our public health response at every level.
The problem for anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers newly elected to school boards is the pandemic isn’t over. This winter schools are facing the so-called tripledemic, a surge of RSV, flu, COVID and other respiratory viruses that are affecting a record number of young people. Public officials in Los Angeles and the Bay Area have already called for the reinstatement of mask mandates. If the state calls for our local public schools to mask up, will the school districts with anti-mask majority boards follow?
Hopefully, Shasta County and the north state will avoid the triple threat from airborne respiratory viruses and school board members won’t take it upon themselves to make life-and-death decisions for the rest of us.
But idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and in lieu of any public health mandates to buck, expect some of our school board newcomers to spend their time sniffing out critical race theory, “gender confusion” and allegedly risqué young adult fiction imbedded in the local curricula. If they find anything, we’ll be hearing about it.
That’s how one school district in Texas recently came to ban the graphic novel version of The Diary of Anne Frank. It seems in one passage the teenage holocaust victim confesses to being attracted to the same sex. That’s a bridge too far in Texas.
Not to be outdone by the Lone Star State, the Florida Republican Legislature and fascist Gov. Ron DeSantis recently passed the Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act, or the “Stop WOKE Act.” The act limits discussion related to race and gender issues in higher education classrooms. Naturally, the ACLU has already filed suit.
Authur Gorman, the newly elected Shasta County Board of Education Area 2 trustee has already sniffed out wokeness in the California School Boards Association, calling it a “left-sided organization” that spent “millions of dollars against parents’ rights” that’s “lobbying against you” in a recent Facebook post. In fact, CSBA is a nonpartisan nonprofit education association that represents elected school board members and trustees from nearly 1,000 educational agencies statewide, conservative, liberal or whatever, including Gorman.
That’s a little taste of what may be coming our way from MAGA school board members. For as much as they complain about cancel culture, only one party is passing legislation to ban books across the country: the Republican Party.
Q: Moderate Republicans verses MAGA Republicans: Is there room for both?
Doni Chamberlain: I think there’s room for both, but whether they’ll get along is another question.
If there’s one good thing that’s come from the Shasta County political insanity since 2020, it’s that the extreme MAGA mobs have inadvertently united moderates of all parties. Look at the dirty recall of Leonard Moty, and the attempted recalls of supervisors Rickert and Chimenti. All three are Republicans; later accused of being “RINOs” (Republicans in name only).
Now in Shasta County, the Republican party has been subdivided into two groups: the extremist right-wing Republicans, and the rational Republicans. Chris Kelstrom, the Red, White and Blueprint/State of Jefferson devotee, recently said in a Facebook post that he didn’t think the Shasta County Republican Central Committee was any better than the League of Women Voters. (Though why Kelstrom would have a beef with the non-partisan LWVs who provided forum venues for him is a mystery, since the group hosted a number of the very forums where Kelstrom was a featured candidate.) Kelstrom has referred to District 5 Supervisor candidate Baron Browning – a Republican – as “Leonard Moty 2.0”. And Kelstrom calls Browning his friend. Go figure.
RV, I know you’ve done the deep dive into Shasta County’s political make-up. What’s the breakdown look like?
RV Scheide: According to the 2020 Census, 182,139 people live in Shasta County. Approximately 144,000 Shasta County residents — 79 percent — are 18 or over and eligible to vote. According to Shasta County Elections, 111,605 of those eligible voters — 76 percent — were actually registered to vote in the 2022 general election. Half of those voters are registered Republicans; about a quarter — 23 percent — are Democrats; another quarter — 27 percent — are no party preference or other. Roughly speaking, the county is half Republican and half Democratic/no party preference or other.
Of the 111,605 registered voters in Shasta County, 68,731 people actually voted, 61.58 percent of the electorate. That’s considered a respectable voter turnout and reflects a national trend of rising turnout over the past three election cycles, according to Pew Research Center. The rise has been driven by the increased use of early voting, absentee ballots and mail-in ballots during the pandemic and the hyper-partisan politics of the Trump era.
Going solely by national and statewide elections that offer a choice between Republican and Democratic candidates, Shasta County remains rock-ribbed Republican, with on average more than 70 percent of voters choosing the Republican candidate in the races for U.S. senator, Congressional District 1, governor, lieutenant governor, state attorney general and Assembly District 1.
One exception to this rule was the vote on Prop. 1, the Reproductive Freedom Act. The statewide initiative codifies abortion and contraception rights and passed 67 percent to 33 percent. Predictably, Shasta County voters rejected Prop.1 but by less than the expected 70-30 margin, with 54.85 percent voting against it and 45.15 percent voting in favor. Clearly more than a few moderate Republicans in Shasta County voted to codify reproductive rights in the state constitution.
Likewise, more than a few moderate Republicans voted for Erin Resner and Baron Browning, the “safe and sane” candidates who ran respectively against MAGA Republicans Kevin Crye and Chris Kelstrom for the District 1 and District 5 Shasta County Supervisor seats.
These races were incredibly close in more ways than one. The four candidates each raised more than $100,000, setting a record for spending on local supervisor races. The margins for victory are thin, in Crye’s case razor-thin, he leads Resner by less than 1 percent. Kelstrom leads Browning by a more comfortable 3 percent, but it was still a close race.
Reverge Anselmo’s $100,000 donation to yet another newly formed political action committee in August on the campaign’s home stretch might have made all the difference in the supervisor races. The contribution pushed Anselmo over the $1 million mark in donations to Shasta County’s rightwing populists. Last year, after he pumped $400,000 into the campaign to recall three county supervisors, Anselmo told the Red, White and Blueprint docuseries he’d consider returning to Shasta County if it eliminated his nemesis, the Department of Resource Management.
It sounded preposterous at the time, and the recall effort only managed to dislodge one supervisor, Leonard Moty. Now District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones has a 4-1 majority on the board. While there are some checks on his power, the Tea Party patriot will now be able to shape Shasta County in the extreme libertarian image of Reverge Anselmo.
What that might look like is anyone’s guess at this point.
Doni Chamberlain: The outcome of this election feels like Shasta County is a runaway train filled with sleeping people who dozed during the recall, dozed during the “medical protests” and dozed when the county was being infiltrated by Proud Boys and militia members. After the lie-based recall of Leonard Moty, many people expressed shock that it happened. They literally could not believe it happened. And now, many people are expressing shock that the moderate candidates who looked like clear winners, were unexpected losers.
The outcome of this election is about so much more than candidates who won and candidates who lost. The outcome has dire potential ramifications that could inflict serious damage to the county for years to come. Right now, we’re living in a worst-case scenario. Our only hope is for citizens to wake up, pay attention, and find intelligent, moderate, sane candidates for future elections to turn this train around to a safe place. If not, Shasta County is heading for the cliffs.
That’s a postmortem I hope we never have to write.
If you appreciate Doni Chamberlain and R.V. Scheide’s in-depth reporting, commentary and grass-roots journalism, please consider contributing to A News Cafe. Thank you.
Journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with son Joe Domke. She’s an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer.
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.