Three vie for California Assembly District 1 seat
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Two of the three candidates for the state Assembly District 1 seat have faced each other before in just the last year.
Democrat Elizabeth Betancourt and Republican Megan Dahle ran in August to take the seat vacated by Brian Dahle, Megan Dahle’s husband, when he won a special election for the state Senate. They were the top two vote-getters in a primary involving five candidates. Because no one candidate secured at least 50% of the vote, plus one vote, they advanced to a November runoff.
In that November election, Megan Dahle beat Betancourt 48,516 votes to 35,342, or 58% to 42%. Nevada County voted Betancourt, 11,153 votes to 9,414, or 54% to 46%, the only county that Dahle lost.
PK “Paul” Dhanuka, meanwhile, is a newcomer to politics and is running as a no party preference candidate. If no candidate achieves at least 50% of the vote, plus one vote, the top two vote-getters in the March 3 election will proceed to a November runoff.
Elizabeth Betancourt said she felt energized by the last campaign, pointing out that she broke voting records with less money and less time.
“The energy for a new voice is really strong in this district,” she said. “I think people realize we can have better.”
Betancourt called her experience a plus, saying, “I have been an advocate for rural communities and issues for 20 years. Our advocates at the Capitol are not bringing resources home. I believe in our community, and we deserve better — and we can be better. We need our representative to recognize that we have the ability to create a community that serves everyone.”
As an example, Betancourt cited fire fees, pointing out that Brian Dahle voted against the repeal of the fee.
“He wasn’t an active part of finding a solution,” she said. “He just said ‘no.’ The fee was inequitable, so why did he vote no on repealing it? We have representatives who don’t think through the whole process of policy making, who don’t think holistically.”
One successful program Betancourt wants expanded is a pilot program to get more high school students into community college.
“We need to be actively advocating for programs that are working,” she said. “To get a full bachelors (degree), in some cases, programs needs to be expanded. That’s what I mean about expanding opportunities. We know what will work. We need someone to be an effective advocate in Sacramento.”
Betancourt said her background in facilitation and negotiation means she can apply that to a broader scale, and speak to the diverse yet complementary issues of the district.
“The issue of increasing job availability goes hand-in-hand with addressing climate change and in building the economy in a sustainable way,” she said. “Traditionally, there are interests that have been at odds — timber, tribal interests, environmental interests, community development advocates. But when you talk to issues and negotiate from the standpoint of shared values, they end up being more aligned than we have seen in the past.”
Betancourt said she developed her list of priorities based on conversations with constituents, and they have remained the same over the time she has spent campaigning: “Fire and fuels issues, including insurance for homes and property, complemented by the need for robust educational opportunities in the region. The need for a more diverse economy and more plentiful jobs at all levels. Affordable housing, at all levels, so people have a place to live in our community.”
Increasing access to healthcare options is also a huge priority, Betancourt said.
“Many people have to drive an hour or more for adequate healthcare, let alone specialists,” she said. “There is a dearth of general practitioners in the region.”
Megan Dahle was sworn in to her husband’s Assembly seat in November, but has really been on the job only since the Legislature reconvened on Jan. 6.
“It’s challenging, because I take the job very seriously,” Dahle said. “I’m reading every bill.”
Dahle was named to the Appropriations Committee, which she said requires a “lot of work” before the bills even make it to committee.
She has been trying to campaign in her limited spare time, traveling between Sacramento and her home county of Shasta, “trying to cover as much ground as I can.”
Dahle acknowledges that coming in as the successor to husband Brian has made her work easier, as many of her new colleagues already know her.
“I have a great relationship with many Democrats,” she said. “It does help, that we’ve been here as a family and they know us. They like you and respect you and from there you can move forward.”
Dahle sees those relationships “across the aisle” as crucial to her work representing a rural district.
“I can be effective by educating other members of the Legislature, that the rural communities in our district have a unique set of needs and solutions that look different from urban communities,” she said. “The one size fits all solution does not work for the entire state.”
Still, Dahle says, there is a lot that legislators from across the state can agree on.
“Homelessness is a bipartisan issue that affects every part of our state — and fire, of course,” she said, noting that she accompanied Gov. Gavin Newsom to Nevada County last month to discuss the issue of homelessness and the various partnerships between counties and local nonprofits. “Everyone is looking at and working on ‘fire safe-ing’ our communities … Those are conversations I can be part of, even though I’m a Republican.”
Dahle said she grew up in the North State and is committed to seeing the region thrive once again, citing the need for additional resources and less red tape.
“We don’t look like the rest of the state,” she said. “Some areas in this district are very remote.”
Over the last year, Dahle said, she thinks her priorities have been refined.
“I like to break things down, to take them into parts,” she said.
For example, Dahle said she’s working to pass a $5,000 tax credit for small businesses for any new employee aged 18-25, that would incentivize the hiring of young people.
“I’m just being more strategic in tackling issues,” she said. One person alone can’t solve homelessness, Dahle said — it’s just not realistic. Instead she plans to focus on steps that will make a difference.
“I’m very pragmatic in my approach to life,” she said.
PK “Paul” Dhanuka
PK Dhanuka, an Indian immigrant, has lived his real-life American dream after coming to this country with just $100 in his pocket and a wish to make a better life for his daughter.
Now a successful physician in Redding, he said he chose to run for office to give back to the community.
He recently spent several days in Nevada County to meet with county staff and elected officials, listening to growth projections and issues of concern.
“What caught my attention was, how similar the problems and challenges are in every county,” Dhanuka said.
Dhanuka pointed to the challenges faced by the district, even though it is rich in natural resources.
“We can’t use those with a free hand,” he said. “It’s all controlled from Sacramento, and they don’t understand the challenges we face in rural counties. Our population and needs frankly get drowned (out) in the Legislature and the (state) government, that is primarily focused on big cities. That’s the problem I see in every county — if we had more freedom to make more decisions, we would come up with better solutions.”
Dhanuka chose to run as an independent because he wants to do away with political divisiveness.
“We have a very partisan divide in society right now, in politics, at the federal level and the state level which poisons the community and frankly distracts us from the real challenges and real concerns,” he said. “People are tired of that. More and more people are becoming independent and leaving political parties. The establishment is not serving the purpose of the people, especially the younger generations.”
Dhanuka wants to bring control back to the local level, and real representation back to the district, he said.
“From Yreka to Loyalton to Truckee and Colfax, so many places have never seen their representative in forever,” Dhanuka said. “We have lost our representation effectivity. That’s why I am running as an independent — to put people in charge of politics.”
Dhanuka said he has been running a grassroots campaign and feels his message of “the sensible center” is resonating with people.
“Our top priorities are food on the table, education for our children, shelter, healthcare, safety, security,” he said. “We all want the same thing, for our neighbors and for strangers.”
Liz Kellar is a staff writer for The Union, a sister paper of the Sierra Sun. To contact Kellar email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.