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Can a Smart Guy from Bethel Church Defeat Shasta County District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones?

Shasta County District 4 Supervisor candidate Matt Plummer.

Small towns are all the rage these days and chances are Shasta County District 4 supervisor candidate Matt Plummer comes from a smaller town than you do. That would be Califon, New Jersey, population 1005. Founded as “California” in 1849, the town’s name was shortened to Califon around 1875, so it would fit on the sign for the new train station.

Plummer seeks to dispose controversial District 4 supervisor Patrick Jones in the 2024 primary election next March.

Plummer, 36, would one day relocate to California, but he grew up walking everywhere in a tiny close-knit hamlet in western New Jersey where everybody knew where everybody else lived. He excelled at sports, baseball and football, and at school, where he immersed himself in science, math and engineering projects. There were fun community events, such as the annual Halloween parade. Plummer’s CPA father would make elaborate getups for the youngster, who won best costume four years running.

His prowess for sports and academics attracted the attention of Yale University, where Plummer received a football sponsorship in 2005. The 6-3 227 pound Plummer played as a reserve linebacker and special teams player on the 2007 varsity team, recording eight tackles.

“I was like a good football player,” Plummer told me recently at From the Hearth on College View, downplaying his skills on the gridiron. His high GPA kept him in the game. “For the football team, I was also a really good student.”

About two years into his mechanical engineering major, Plummer realized he no longer wanted to be a mechanical engineer. He’d developed a keen interest in psychology, why people act in certain ways, why groups behave in certain ways, and was seriously contemplating changing his major. On Christmas break during his sophomore year, he broke the news to his dad.

“I think I’m going to change my major to psychology,” he said.

“No you’re not,” dad replied.

Plummer settled on earning a double major in mechanical engineering and psychology and graduated in the 2008-2009 school year, just in time for the Great Recession. He had acquaintances who lost their brand new posh jobs when Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers collapsed. He was offered and accepted a job at a brand consultancy in New York City, only to lose it when the firm declared a hiring freeze. He wound up taking a job at the industrial supply giant McMaster-Carr in Cleveland, where he ultimately managed 40 employees.

Meet the Plummers.

During the same time period, Plummer married his high school sweetheart, whom he’s known since the fifth grade. Today they have three daughters, ages 5, 8 and 10, all born in August. Back then, as he drove home from work at McMaster-Carr to their apartment, past tool-and-die firms and machine shops shut down by the faltering economy, he found his mind wandering from work to concern about the future.

“What does the future of this look like?” he asked himself. “What happens to the folks who were working there?”

Seeking once again to satisfy his own intellectual curiosity, Plummer took a position with The Bridgespan Group, the Boston-based nonprofit organization that advises other nonprofits and philanthropists on hiring, strategy, obtaining funding and measuring results. The job provided Plummer the ability to work remotely (several years before the COVID era) and he took advantage of it to explore another interest, a spiritual interest he shared with this wife: Bethel Church in Redding, California.

Plummer was raised as an evangelical in a denomination much staider than flamboyant Bethel with its prosperity gospel, faith healing, speaking in tongues and school of supernatural ministry. He first became aware of elements of what’s sometimes called the New Apostolic Reformation or NAR while in college. After moving here in 2016, he became intrigued with Bethel’s efforts to advance prosperity in the city of Redding.

“I was doing that in a non-religious way through this nonprofit,” explained Plummer, who has an affinity for long-sleeved flannel shirts, even when it’s 100 degrees out. “What would it look like if I went there, kept working at the nonprofit, to see if I can merge the two?”

In 2017, Plummer decided to find out, relocating his family permanently to Shasta County and founding Zarvana, a consulting company that according to his LinkedIn page helps corporations, nonprofits and government agencies improve their employees’ “soft skills, including email management, prioritization, focus, stress management, critical thinking, motivation, and people & team management.”

Zarvana is designed to address what Plummer identified as a key need in Shasta County: more jobs that can become careers where people can grow with the organization and make a livable salary.

“Zarvana provides employees with the skills they need for such careers,” Plummer said.

“It has gone through a lot of twists and turns and hasn’t fully realized the vision of being a big employer, but there’s still hope for that,” he said.
“Basically now I provide corporate training and some coaching to companies, nonprofits and some government agencies on critical thinking and problem solving skills, productivity efficiency and people management.”

According to Plummer’s Form 700 statement of economic interests on file with the Shasta County Registrar of Voters, Zarvana earned more than $100,000 in gross income in 2022. Plummer admits previous years have been thinner, and he’s augmented his income writing business articles for Harvard Business Review and Inc. and managing political campaigns, including fellow Bethel member Jenny Rae Le Roux’s unsuccessful runs for governor in the 2021 recall and the 2022 primary, Nathan Hochman’s unsuccessful bid for California Attorney General in 2022 and Alex Shea’s failed run for Redding City Council in 2022.

Matt Plummer on the campaign trail. Is that Barbie in his pocket?

Experienced Bethel observers will be quick to note that Plummer speaks the lingo of the Seven Mountain Mandate, the Dominion theology that commands adherents to seize control of the seven mountains or spheres of societal influence: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government.

I told Plummer that such observers don’t necessarily equate critical thinking, one of his specialties, with the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.

“When people say, ‘Oh, you’re from Bethel,’ I’ll answer that because I’m not going to be misleading, but at the same time, let’s talk about what it is about that association that actually has you concerned, because that’s what actually matters.”

I pointed out that when Bethel critics hear talk of a “culture of service” and “working for the common good,” as in this interview with Plummer and La Roux, they’re concerned that only the common good of Bethel members will be served, and the rest of us will be left in the lurch.

“I’m not representing Bethel,” Plummer said. “In this position I’d be representing Shasta County. I can’t speak for Bethel or for anyone who goes there. But I can speak for myself in saying my goal would be to tackle the challenges we’re facing as a community, make real progress on them and put the county in a position where it’s functioning well so that it can continue to do that in the future. It makes no sense to say, ‘Let’s create a better life for the Bethel people, but everybody else would be hurt by that.’ That doesn’t even work, right? You have to create a community that everybody can benefit and thrive from, so that Bethel people and non-Bethel people will thrive.”

Plummer noted that in his experience, there’s a wide spectrum of political belief among Bethel’s membership.

“Obviously there’ve been some loud voices that are far-right,” he admitted. “But there are a lot of people who are probably registered Democrats. I don’t ask people, I just figure from their ideologies.”

Matt Plummer on the campaign trail.

The Politics of Distract and Divide

Since kicking off his campaign in June, Plummer has used Shasta County’s state-leading suicide rate, the current board’s inability to open the third floor of the jail and the culture of retaliation nurtured by the board’s paranoia as prima facie evidence of the need for a change in leadership.

“One of the reasons I’m running is because I believe what we have as culture is passed down,” he said. “The current culture that’s being fostered by the leadership at the county is eroding the social fabric of the community. Part of what I see as my assignment in terms of running and as a goal is to shift the culture in a positive way. I think leaders can shift the culture by modeling a culture of service. … I think if we did have a culture of service, a culture of leadership, a culture of honor, that would help create the right pre-conditions to actually make progress on the things that are important.”

Instead, the ultraconservative board led by Patrick Jones has sought to distract and divide Shasta County, according to Plummer.

“By distracted, I mean we’re spending a lot of time, resources and energy on what I would call culture war issues,” he said. “If you’re running for national office that becomes more pertinent. But here, there’s a number of things that we’re among the worst in the state on and I don’t hear very much conversation about those issues at all.

“Instead we’re talking about these things we’re completely divided on. Every board of supervisors meeting you here somebody get up and say, ‘there’s fraud in the elections.’ Then you hear somebody say, ‘there’s no fraud because there’s no evidence’ and we’re spending all our time arguing over that.

“Why don’t we focus on the problems we can agree exist and make progress on those? When we’ve built some common will and demonstrated we’re trying to do something good for the community, then we can tackle some of these thornier topics. But prioritizing those [thornier topics] above things like the fact that our suicide rate is among the highest in the state, that doesn’t feel like an appropriate use of government to me.”

For Plummer, the decision by Jones, District 1 supervisor Kevin Crye and District 5 Supervisor Chris Kelstrom to terminate the Dominion Voting Systems contract in March perfectly illustrated the ultraconservative majority’s “misconstrued faulty idea of what it looks like to work with the state.”

“We ditched Dominion and we’re like we’re the model and we’re cheering and going around gloating,” Plummer said. “And the state’s like alright, well we’re just going to write legislation that makes that illegal. Now we have more regulation and more state oversight in our local county and it’s a direct result of doing that. Now they’re angry at the state and sure you can be angry at the state but it’s because they did it in such a way that—the first bill was written, before AB-969 was amended, just to make sure people had a voting system in place before you terminate the contract with another one, which is perfectly logical.

“I know Patrick will say we had a voting system in place, that we already use hand counting on recounts. That’s not the same thing as having a voting system in place.”

Matt Plummer on the campaign trail.

In 2022, the board of supervisors newfound ultraconservative majority, formed by then District 5 supervisor Les Baugh, Jones and newly elected District 2 supervisor Tim Garman, voted to fire Shasta County Public Health Officer Karen Ramstrom. I asked Plummer to critique the board’s action.

“I would say a few things,” he began carefully. “Even when I agree with the end destination of some of the decisions of the board, the ‘how’ of the process is often a mess. That’s a problem because the how matters. The process that you use to get there actually matters. You can’t just justify the means by the ends.”

Not that Plummer agrees with Ramstrom’s final destination. The longtime public servant has yet to be replaced.

“I think there was probably things she could have done better, but that was probably true of most everybody,” he said. “If you were only in Shasta County during the whole COVID era, then you might be like, wow this was really oppressive. But during 2021 I was traveling all around the state, so I saw what was going on with COVID everywhere else. When I came back to Shasta County I said, whoa, this is nice. That perspective was missing here.”

To be certain, Plummer was an early advocate for returning schools to in-person instruction during the pandemic. His daughters attend Redding School for the Arts, and after the school abruptly canceled a return to in-person instruction in August 2020, he wrote and circulated a petition to return to in-person instruction that was presented at the next school board meeting.

“I don’t know if that influenced the board’s decision, but at the next board meeting, they reversed their decision and decided to go hybrid for the next two to three weeks and then move to solely in-person in September,” Plummer said.

“I was advocating for certain increased measures of freedom during that COVID era,” he continued. “At the same time I think the board has a misperception of how to interact with the state and we’re seeing it time and time again. They think that they can just give the state the middle finger and do what we want and gloat about it in the news and think that’s going to go well. No. We’ve seen that with elections, we’ve seen that with the Fountain wind project. We don’t really have the authority to be like, oh, we’ve got it all figured out here, were the ones who know what good government is when we have all these problems we’re not even addressing. It’s just not effective.”

Matt Plummer on the campaign trail.

Extended Notes From Listening Tour

There are roughly 22,000 registered voters in District 4, including 15,000 within Redding city limits, 6000 in Shasta Lake City, and 1,000 scattered throughout western Shasta County. Plummer has embarked on a listening tour, knocking on as many doors as he can before next March’s primary. That encompasses approximately 3500 households. So far he’s visited 100 households.

“As I’ve started knocking on doors, what I’ve heard from people is, ‘I’m just tired of the board and all the drama. They need to operate as a team to get stuff done. … People don’t want there to be sides on the board. They just want five board members to work together and get stuff done and make things better. Right now that’s not happening.”

I asked Plummer how he plans to take on the county’s myriad problems and still maintain fiscal responsibility.

“You can’t be fiscally responsible if you don’t have goals and priorities,” he said. “Right now the county, as far as I can tell, and I’ve done a fair bit of digging and asking people this question, has no stated goals. So we don’t know what we’re trying to achieve. I’ve been asking our leaders in the county, what are the goals and priorities of the board. They say, ‘I don’t know, we’re going to find out on Tuesday.’ That’s a problem because how can you run any organization if you don’t have goals and priorities? How can you allocate money if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve?

“The first thing I think the county needs to do is, it needs to set goals which establishes your priorities. The reality is we probably don’t have enough money to address everything at once, so we have to decide on what’s most important for us to address first. We have to shift our resources there, like the jail.

“Once you set your goals and priorities then you can make decisions about where you spend money and where you cut back. I think ultimately we have to hold government accountable for improving the community.”

Plummer maintains that’s not happening in Shasta County under the current Jones-led board majority. Instead the board has cultivated a culture of fear and retaliation.

“There’s a way of creating a culture of accountability, which I think is kind of what the board is trying to create, without a culture of retaliation, which is what they have created,” Plummer said. “When I talk to department heads and other folks who are in leadership positions around the county and in nonprofits, what I hear from them is, ‘I agree with you but I’m not going to say anything because I’m worried that there’s going to be consequences for my department.’”

Plummer cites a Gallup poll that found 70 percent of people leave their jobs because of their boss. You can’t have a functional organization if people are worried if they take a risk and do the right thing there’s going to be consequences and retaliation.

“If you use fear to lead, you might get some short term results, but in the long term you’ll actually undermine everything you’re trying to accomplish,” Plummer said. “It’s a short term gain at best and I don’t think we’re even seeing a short term gain. I think some of the leaders who’ve stayed around are going along with what the board majority is asking them to do because they’re trying to hold on to their jobs.”

The Plummer family at home.

While he admits the 100 households he’s visited so far represents a small sample size, he has yet to meet anyone who says they’re a Jones supporter. More concerning is the voter apathy he’s encountered. When asked what they’d like to see the county do better, potential voters respond, “I dunno, meh, whatever.”

“There’s a group of very highly engaged people in the community and we tend to think everybody is like that, but most people are just doing their life—and they should be,” Plummer observed, before taking a shot at the pointless marathon board meetings that have become the norm during the Jones reign.

“Most people shouldn’t have to feel they need to go to a board of supervisors meeting every Tuesday and spend 12 hours of their day.”

This mostly silent majority prefers its government to run on automatic pilot, Plummer suggests. Instead, the county has been divided into two warring camps.

“One is like, ‘we love what’s happening, this is great what the board is doing, they’re fighting for our freedom, they’re defending our rights, etc.’” he said. “Then you have a camp that wants to go back [to the good old days of moderate Republican rule] and I don’t actually want that either. Because if we go back for years, we still had a high suicide rate, our pavement was among the worst in the state. I’m not saying those were the glory golden years. We still had a lot of problems that weren’t necessarily addressed, progress wasn’t made.

“The problem with politicians generally is they take credit for passing bills and spending money,” he said. “I don’t care if you passed a bill, or if you spent $12 billion on homelessness. Did it get better? Show me the results of that.”

Supervisor races are nonpartisan, but make no mistake, Plummer is a conservative Republican living out his role in Bethel’s Seven Mountain Mandate, for better or for worse, depending on your point of view. He also has considerable practice at critical thinking. Readers can sample Plummer’s fairly objective takes on the current issues of the day on his Substack page, California Quest.

“I’ll talk to anybody, I’ll go anywhere, I’ll show up to meetings, wherever,” Plummer said. “I’ll meet with any group of people because I’m not running to be the establishment candidate. I’m running to represent all of Shasta County and invite all opposing opinions into it.”

Does Plummer have a shot at stealing the District 4 seat from Jones, who will undoubtedly be well-funded by his Connecticut benefactor Reverge Anselmo? At this early date, it’s hard to tell. But while the sample size is small, Plummer has been encouraged by potential voters who’ve pledged their support.

“You’re running against Jones?” they say. “Wow, I’m so happy!”

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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