California District 1 Assembly candidates talk issues ahead of forum
Special to the Sierra Sun
MEET THE CANDIDATES
Occupation:Farmer/Small Business Owner/Scientist
Bio: I’m Elizabeth Betancourt – a local farmer, a small business owner, and a rural advocate residing in Shasta County. I’m running to be a new voice for the North State in Sacramento and I hope to earn your confidence and support.
Occupation: Farmer/Small Business Owner
Bio: I am running to help build a stronger and safer North State. My husband Brian and I have been married for over 20 years, with three amazing children who never fail to impress and motivate us every day.
On Nov. 5, District 1 voters will head to the polls to decide whether Democrat Elizabeth Betancourt or Republican Megan Dahle will represent them in the State Assembly.
The two candidates, who emerged from a five-person field in the primary special election, recently fielded questions from The Union on several issues relevant to Nevada County, its residents and voters. Betancourt, the lone Democrat in the Aug. 27 primary, was the top vote-getter with 35,167 votes for 38.6%, while Dahle was second with 32,427 votes, or 35.6%.
The two now vie for the Assembly seat vacated by Brian Dahle, Megan Dahle’s husband, who in June won a special election for the District 1 State Senate seat vacated by former state Sen. Ted Gaines, who won election to the state Board of Equalization in November 2018.
Betancourt said her top issues are resource management, education and health care. She said she’s running to provide representation the North State lacks.
“What I’ve seen is that our communities are underrepresented in the broader decision-making and policy arena,” Betancourt said. “People who are making decisions just don’t have a grasp on the issues we face as rural communities.”
Dahle listed her main priorities as homelessness, fire safety and the environment. She said she’s running because she has the necessary experience and background.
“I care deeply for the North State and with my agriculture and business background I can start day one and hit the ground running,” Dahle said. “I have the connections and experience needed off the bat.”
Although each candidate will face different challenges if elected — Betancourt would be one Democrat among a supermajority hoping to have their voices heard in the middle of budget season and Dahle would be in the minority party — both candidates agreed that winning over people and making connections will be key to advancing the interests of rural communities.
“I’m 100% sure we can get people together if we understand what they care about,” Betancourt said. “Tell me what you care about and I’ll tell you how it’s connected to my district.”
Both candidates said bringing legislators from across the state to District 1 would be a crucial step in getting their colleagues to understand and care about rural issues.
“I believe there’s things we all care about, it’s just about how we go about it,” Dahle said. “When it comes to wildfire, homelessness, education, rural and urban districts agree. It’s just about bringing people together.”
Betancourt said the approach to homelessness needs to focus on building more affordable housing and improving the economic situation. She also supports declaring a statewide emergency for the homlessness crisis.
“Addressing homelessness is a statewide issue,” Betancourt said. “Local jurisdictions have their role and absolutely must have a say when it comes to planning, but the homelessness issue does need to be addressed on a statewide level.”
Dahle said she would focus on getting funding to local governments to deal with the homelessness issue in a way that will work for their population.
“One thing I strongly believe is working with your local government,” Dahle said. “A state passes a law that now the county has to implement, forcing them to build housing or create services that don’t make sense for them.”
Now that cannabis cultivation is legal, Dahle said, local governments must step up enforcement to stop illegal growers to protect the environment and public safety.
“The reason it has a stigma is the illegal grows.” Dahle said. “It‘s legal in our state, and now it’s up to our local governments to enforce codes. It’s a real concern when there are illegal farms in rural counties and it’s scary when you can come upon a grower with guns and the sheriff is 30 minutes away.”
Betancourt said cannabis can become an important driver for local economies if small farmers have fewer regulations in order to compete with larger players.
“I do think it’s an incredible economic opportunity, especially for our rural districts,” Betancourt said. “Making sure those businesses have the regulatory space to actually cement their business model before the big players come through is going to be important. I don’t want local growers to be supplanted when Phillip Morris comes in and plants 10,000 acres.”
Both candidates advocated for more home hardening programs, funding for fire safety, reducing forest fuel loads and said they would work to improve insurance options for homeowners.
“I think we need to look at the California FAIR plan,” Betancourt said. “Given that that is what so many people throughout District 1 will be left with, why is it so expensive and why is coverage so low?”
“I think we need to open up the forest floor and quickly,” Dahle said. “We need to streamline the process and get our timber industry back to work — unfortunately it’s only after a tragedy that some people start waking up.”
Dahle on EDUCATION
Dahle, who was formerly school board president of Big Valley Joint Unified, said education is not an issue of funding, but of getting the already allocated resources into classrooms and highlighting the educational opportunities available to rural students through outreach.
“Young people today feel they have no path without taking on student debt,” Dahle said. “There needs to be more hope and understanding that there are great trade and technical careers out there that they’re not even thinking about.”
betancourt on RESOURCES
Betancourt, who has been in the Resource Management field for 20 years in the public and private sector, said she would use her expertise to advocate for rural communities without over-regulating them.
“Having someone in the legislature that can advocate from a position of knowledge and understanding that is definitely one of my highest priorities,” Betancourt said. “Our region has suffered significantly from some otherwise well-meaning environmental regulation.”
John Orona is a reporter for The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun based in Grass Valley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4229.