Two candidates vie for state Assembly District 1 seat
Special to the Sierra Sun
The two candidates for state Assembly District 1 of California are both farmers.
Both women prioritize fire prevention and forest management, as well as broadband access for the nine counties — including Nevada County — they aspire to represent.
Megan Dahle, the Republican incumbent in state Assembly District 1, is seeking reelection against the same contender she faced in a 2019 special election, Elizabeth Betancourt.
Dahle won the seat after her husband, Brian Dahle, vacated the position. Brian Dahle was elected to replace Ted Gaines in the state Senate after Gaines won office on the state Board of Equalization.
State Assembly District 1’s Democratic candidate Elizabeth Betancourt likes her policy like she likes her fruits and veggies — local.
The San Joaquin Valley native moved to a farm in Shasta County in 2011. Among Happy Valley’s 100-year-old “beautifully gnarled” olive trees, Betancourt grows, harvests and sells produce in her market garden.
“This year we’ve been pretty busy nourishing the community at a time when a lot of people just simply need food,” Betancourt said. “Whether they don’t have the resources or just want to buy more locally.”
Betancourt said she is running with her neighbors’ interests in mind, rather than corporations.
“I made my decision to not take corporate donations very public because I don’t think it’s appropriate for candidates in office to be in bed with corporate donors,” Betancourt said.
Betancourt said her donation average was far lower than that of her opponent, which makes her feel like she is running her campaign right.
“We all know that money buys elections, but last time we checked the average donation to my campaign was $44,” Betancourt said. “I’m pretty proud that it’s so low.”
Betancourt said 60% to 70% of her donations come from within the region.
Betancourt’s biggest financial support comes from union endorsements, the California Association of Professional Scientists and the California Federation of Teachers, to name a few.
Betancourt’s concern for the wellbeing of rural communities comes from being brought up in one herself, she said. The actual practice of caring for those communities comes in large part from her work as a socially focused scientist and an environmental policy advocate.
Betancourt has an undergraduate degree in environmental biology from UC Davis and a master’s degree in watershed science from Colorado State University. Those degrees help inform her current work for the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board.
“I have the perfect suite of experience for high-profile, high-priority needs of the region,” Betancourt said, recalling her 20 years of experience advocating and implementing environmental legislation.
Working in science helped Betancourt appreciate the fluidity of knowledge and its varied practical applications, she explained, something politicians could improve on.
“We need to create policies that respect that evolution and understanding,” Betancourt said.
Betancourt said one of her main priorities is forest health and wildfire protection, something politicians had a limited understanding of in the 1940s and 1950s.
“When people created that policy to never have a fire again on the land, they completely cut out a major player in the game — tribes,” Betancourt said. “Tribes have thousands and thousands of years of understanding how the Earth works.”
According to Betancourt, fire safety is one of four policy elements crucial to her platform.
“These are what I have heard with the most regularity from people out there, and what I’ve personally seen — they’re low hanging fruit and high priority,” Betancourt said.
Aside from fire preparedness, Betancourt said inconsistent broadband access is a quality of life issue and, during COVID-19, an education issue as well.
“We’ve been advocating for fire preparedness and broadband access for decades,” Betancourt said. “These issues are coming to a head now.”
Beyond technological outreach, Betancourt said her two other top priority issues are providing more affordable housing options and medical care to people across the state, but especially in rural areas.
Dahle said her platform remains constant — but the urgency of those issues has grown.
According to Dahle, forest management and wildfire are top priorities.
“We need to reduce fuel sources,” Dahle said. “We need to be on the ground removing those dead and dying trees and we need to fast track it.”
Dahle said identifying the similarities between towns and comparing their fire preparedness will help the district across the board.
“I toured with (Nevada County Supervisor) Sue Hoek and we went out with Cal Fire and caldrons and we looked at the access point on Highway 20 — it’s the highway in and out of the region,” Dahle continued. “That’s what we saw in Paradise — one road in and out. We need to go into Penn Valley and say we know there’s a problem here.”
Dahle’s concern for rural children’s education is directly related to her advocacy for broadband access. Taking intentional measures to connect adolescents with the web ensures a competent workforce.
“The broadband issue is related to being able to bring in tech and trade into our high school,” Dahle said.
For Dahle, the urgency has grown as parents struggle to maintain the quality of their child’s education amidst COVID-19.
“Now more than ever parental choice is important,” Dahle said, lamenting the loss of legislative moves that allow parents to opt in to charter schools. “Some are begging to get their kids back to school.”
Dahle said she would focus her next term on helping businesses recover from economic losses experienced during the pandemic.
“We’re small business owners, we’re farmers, so I would like to focus on COVID recovery,” Dahle said. “I’m not saying it’s over, but how do we help small businesses?”
Dahle said stronger local governance will help ensure the region remains on the path to recovery from COVID-19 with strong contact tracing.
Dahle said another priority integral to her platform is ensuring public safety.
“It’s important that law enforcement and first responders have the tools they need to keep us safe,” Dahle said.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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