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An Assembly battle in the wide-open spaces

Assembly candidates Elizabeth Betancourt, left, and Megan Dahle. (Photo illustration by Tim Foster, Capitol Weekly)

A husband and wife team in the Legislature — again?

On Nov. 5, voters in California’s sprawling 1st Assembly District will choose between Republican Megan Dahle and Democrat Elizabeth Betancourt in a special election.

Sen. Brian Dahle, Megan’s husband, represents the equally sprawling 1st Senate District. He was elected in June, succeeding Ted Gaines, who left the state Senate and now serves on the Board of Equalization.

Megan Dahle raised more money than any other candidate in the district at the time of the special election primaries in August.

Husband-and-wife lawmakers aren’t unusual here: Gaines and his wife, former Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, also a Republican, served in the Senate and Assembly, respectively, and their terms overlapped from 2011 through 2016.

For Megan Dahle to be elected, she’ll have to get around Betancourt — which seems likely in this heavily Republican region.

Betancourt is making her first bid for elected office. She faces a steep uphill battle, at least in part because her opponent has the benefit of her husband’s name recognition.

Campaign cash also is critical.

Megan Dahle raised more money than any other candidate in the district at the time of the special election primaries in August, with nearly $200,000 coming from contributors representing “real estate, health care, law enforcement and public safety unions, among other groups,” the Sacramento Bee reported.

Her campaign made sizable expenditures to political strategists, most of which exceeded $15,000 and the largest of which was nearly $20,000 according to financial disclosure records on file with the state.

The nine-county 1st Assembly District covers a huge swath of northern and northeastern California, a region of dense forests, towering mountains and high deserts.

The bulk of Betancourt’s funding has come from small, independent donations, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Heading into the general election both candidates have built on their fundraising.  Dahle has raised over $300,000 and Betancourt is coming in with around $95,000.

Betancourt, who describes herself as a “proud native of rural California,” grew up in the San Joaquin Valley and said she has spent “most of [her] working life in Northern California’s forests, fields, and rivers.”

She studied science and resource management at UC Davis and earned her master’s degree in forestry and source-water management from Colorado State University before returning to the Sierra-Cascade region of California.

The nine-county 1st Assembly District covers a huge swath of northern and northeastern California, a region of dense forests, towering mountains and high deserts. It completely encloses seven counties, including Lassen, Plumas, Modoc, Nevada, Shasta, Sierra, and Siskiyou, and partially covers Butte and Placer. The district is largely rural, and two of the counties — Modoc and Lassen — have the highest GOP voter registration percentages in California, more than double the Republicans’ statewide average.

Betancourt served four years as board director of the Western Shasta Resource Conservation District.

All this makes it tough for Democrat Betancourt, who has relatively little name ID except in Redding in Shasta County.

But Betancourt says she is running because she wants to ensure that the “viability, importance, and opportunities” of rural California are recognized in the Legislature and don’t remain overlooked. Advocating for rural California is her primary goal in running for office, she says, because in many cases, those who are put in place to make decisions … don’t have roots in rural places.”

Betancourt served four years as board director of the Western Shasta Resource Conservation District, an appointed position that she says provided her with “good experience in public service.”

She also organized the Redding Women’s March in 2017 with less than a week of preparation, turning out a crowd of over 200 people and establishing what she described as a “robust planning group” for subsequent marches.

Her top priority, should she win office, is to press Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare homelessness and poverty a state emergency.

A critical issue throughout AD 1 is PG&E’s policy of cutting power to large numbers of customers to avoid liability in the event of a wildfire —  something that Betancourt contends could have been avoided if the utility company had properly invested in infrastructure over the course of the last few decades.  Rural Californians are now facing the consequences for the utility’s inaction, she says.

Real issues, Betancourt, says are ones that an Assembly member could influence in the state Legislature and impact their district, meaning hot-button national issues such as immigration and abortion are not on Betancourt’s radar.

Instead, she wants to focus on increasing access to healthcare in her district, pointing out that it is often harder to come by in rural areas than in urban ones.

She also advocates for greater investment in public K-12 schools, community colleges and vocational and trade schools, and has called for home construction as a way of dealing with the housing and homeless crises afflicting the state, including in rural areas. Her top priority, should she win office, is to press Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare homelessness and poverty a state emergency.

“I still very much believe the North State wants a strong conservative voice.” — Megan Dahle

She also believes that as a veteran watershed scientist, she has greater experience in the issues of landscape and resource management that are, in many ways unique to her district, than any of her predecessors.  Especially in the areas involving water and forest

As the clear challenger Betancourt will need to overcome a lot of obstacles in order to win the election.  She believes she will be able to do just that, though, because of her “faith in people.”

Even Betancourt was “surprised by the number and intensity of supporters” at her campaign events in the heavily Republican district.

She believes she is “taking hold in the moment for change” and sees herself as a different kind of candidate because of her experience and passion in relevant issues along with her willingness to collaborate and “work with the tea party and other conservatives” to find solutions to problems and avoid “bad unintended consequences.”

Although Dahle came in second to Betancourt in the August primaries, the Republican vote was split four ways suggesting that those Republican votes that didn’t go to either of the top two candidates will be redirected to Dahle.

“I still very much believe the North State wants a strong conservative voice” Dahle said following the primary results.

Editor’s Note: Corrects editing error in third graf by deleting reference to Brian Dahle as Senate minority leader. 


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