The newly redrawn state Assembly District 1 seat is up for grabs in the upcoming June 7 election.
State Assemblywoman Megan Dahle, the incumbent, will face off against challenges from Republican Party candidate Kelly Tanner, Democratic Party candidate Belle Sandwith, and Peace and Freedom Party candidate Joshua Brown.
The top two candidates will head into the Nov. 8 general election to determine the district’s Assembly representative.
Joshua Brown describes himself as a “communist revolutionary.” He’s running under the banner of the Peace and Freedom Party, the left-wing political party in California which Ralph Nader ran under in 2008.
“I’m on the side of the workers,” Brown said. “I want workers to own the entire means of production.”
Brown grew up in Shasta County, where he has lived his whole life, serving as vice chair of the Shasta County Peace and Freedom Party, and founding Redding Red Meals, which buys food for the homeless. He describes himself as working class, and is currently unemployed, with plans to enroll in Shasta College in the near future.
As state assemblyman, Brown would seek to implement what he calls his “red jobs initiative,” which he describes as a socialist version of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Green New Deal and President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better programs. The initiative would create “green, living wage union jobs and infrastructure and transport” and “socially owned local enterprises, all for need, not for profit.”
Health care also matters to Brown, who said he is autistic. He has gone through special education and receives Social Security benefits, and said that his disability gives him a unique perspective.
Like Sandwith, Brown believes that COVID-19 is not over, and supports the mask and vaccine mandates. Most importantly, he said, he wants to nationalize the health care system.
“That’s something the Republicans are definitely not going to do,” Brown said, “and that’s something the Democrats have blocked twice in the last five years.”
He also thinks gas prices are a major issue riding on this election.
“You have the capitalist liberal Democrats in power, they’re allowing corporations and billionaires to make record profits,” he said. “Republicans are even bigger capitalists. They call it inflation, it’s not inflation, it’s corporate greed.”
Brown’s solution would be to nationalize the industry and institute price controls.
Politically, his views have moved further left over the past few years. He began as a liberal, supporting Barack Obama, then Bernie Sanders. He mentioned Joseph Stalin and “Juche” — the state ideology of North Korea — as sources of inspiration, as well as American socialists and activists like Harriett Tubman and Eugene Debs.
Some of his past views, Brown said, he now regrets. He used to identify with incels, or “involuntary celibates,” an online community of men who harbor hostility toward women for not wanting to have sex with them.
He added that he now supports a matriarchal system in which women are in charge.
At 18 years old, Brown is far the youngest candidate running for state Assembly, but believes he is most qualified when it comes to understanding the district’s needs.
“There are a lot of working class people here,” Brown said. “There are a lot of people who’ve gone through the mental health system. What qualifies me is that I’m one of them, one of us.”
Assemblywoman Megan Dahle said she focused much of her last three years in office on helping rural communities like her own. She co-authored bills to study transportation access and improve broadband internet in rural areas, and served as the only Republican member on the Assembly’s broadband working group.
Now, she’s running again, she said, because “there is still much to be done.”
Dahle replaced her husband, current state Sen. Brian Dahle, as the district’s state assemblywoman in a special election in 2019. Before joining the state Assembly, she served on the Big Valley Joint Unified school board and co-owned a plant nursery. When not in Sacramento, the Dahles also run a wheat farm where they live in Bieber.
Several issues are now at the top of Dahle’s agenda: crime, housing, and, as always, education.
She wants the state to take a harder stance against crime, which, she said, is “on the rise in California.” California saw an uptick in homicides in 2020, a trend which continued in 2021. Property crime, which plummeted during the pandemic, has now increased to pre-pandemic levels.
“People do not feel safe any longer in their communities,” Dahle said. She wants to repeal Proposition 47, the bill which reclassifies theft and drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, reducing sentences for people currently serving time for those crimes.
Dahle’s focus is on rural communities in particular. In her broadband working group, she said that her main focus is ensuring that federal funding set aside for rural communities is coming to District 1.
As a former school board member, Dahle is particularly interested in rural education. One of her bills, the Frontier School District Bill, seeks to define a class of rural school districts with fewer than 600 students that could qualify for special funding. These smaller schools often lack the staff to teach courses that universities require, such as AP courses, as well as the resources needed to apply for funding in the first place, such as grant writers.
Dahle has another bill in committee, Assembly Bill 2364, that seeks to create a rural education task force under the state school board, which, as she put it, “will lend a voice to our rural schools to be represented at the state level.”
When it comes to education, Dahle said she believes in “school choice” and “parental choice.”
Dahle worked to loosen COVID-19 restrictions, co-sponsoring a bill to terminate Gov. Gavin Newsom’s declared state of emergency.
“I support our public schools 100%,” she said, “But I believe strongly that parents have the right to make the choice for their kids what path is for them.”
Schools have become a battleground for political debates across the country, including California. Dahle thinks parental choice might be the biggest issue riding on the election.
“They are dubbing this year the year of the parents,” she said.
Dahle describes herself as strategic, and knows how to get a bill through the process and have it signed. She believes in collaboration, and said she would bring her knowledge of the Legislature and the relationships she’s formed “across the aisle” to a second term.
Out of all the candidates, Dahle pointed out, she has the ultimate form of experience:
“I’ve been doing the job.”
A lifelong athlete and Democrat, Belle Starr Sandwith has played basketball in almost every county in the district. Now, in a last-minute turn of events, she is running to represent it.
Sandwith entered the state Assembly race six days before the filing period after the previous Democrat bowed out. She wanted to ensure every district was contested by a Democrat.
However, she said, the election is not just about a difference of political opinions.
“What is at stake is sanity,” she said. “Democracy, the rule of law.”
She describes herself as “very anti-Trump.”
“The Capitol insurrection broke my heart and devastated me,” she said. She considers the Republicans who supported the insurrection “un-American,” and is deeply concerned about the rise in recalls across the country, including in Nevada and Shasta counties.
Sandwith was born in Kansas, then moved to Donner Summit in 1978, where she grew up. She has dabbled in a hodgepodge of occupations, including seasonal resort jobs; owning a restaurant, Belle Starr’s Great Food Beer; working as a chef on the Indycar circuit; and television production work covering sports.
Sandwith, who comes from a working class background, described herself as persistent and driven, an approach she’s brought to all of her experiences.
“I didn’t inherit a rice farm,” she said. “I’m just a single lady trying to be the change I want to see in the world.”
Sandwith received her bachelor’s in public health education at the University of Nevada, Reno, but never predicted that it would become as useful as it did. During the pandemic, she became an informal public information officer for her town of Loyalton, because she said that the local health department was too afraid of losing their jobs to publish case rates or share vaccine information.
Now, she opposes what she called Republican efforts to loosen safety measures like masking.
“COVID is not gone, I’ve just had it,” she said, then added, “I know it’s not popular with a lot of people and I don’t care. I will not go with public want versus scientific evidence.”
Sandwith also supports health care for all, and criticized Dahle for voting against AB 1400, which creates a single-payer health care coverage system for California called CalCare.
However, Sandwith said that “everything that has to do with fire” is at the top of her agenda. Like with COVID-19, she said she became a self-appointed fire expert last summer, sharing emergency updates on Facebook in case people missed them.
She wants to ensure that there is an effective emergency alert network for rural areas, to “hold PG&E accountable,” and create a more cohesive, state-run approach to evacuations, which she said are often disorganized, and should be conducted by the government, not a nonprofit like the Red Cross.
Sandwith has also personally dealt with the “insurance nightmares” of living in a fire district like District 1. Her rates tripled, forcing her to remortgage her house. She said that people need a better option than the insurance provided by the California FAIR plan.
“If I get elected, I’m going to haunt the commissioner’s house until they do something about this FAIR plan,” she said, citing the high rates charged by insurance companies to those covered under the plan.
Sandwith thinks these shared concerns may be the only thing transcending the district’s political divides.
“It’s the largest geographical district in the state,” she said. “But we all have this one horrible thing in common, which is wildfire.”
Frustrated with the fire problem in her community and feeling that no one was listening, Kelly Tanner decided she had no choice but to run for state Assembly.
“This is the issue that is facing the entire district, that no one is doing anything about,” Tanner said. “Our rural areas aren’t getting heard, but we’re getting some of the worst.”
Tanner, a Republican, received her bachelor’s in political science from Brigham Young University, and a master’s in disaster and emergency management from American Military University. She wrote her thesis on the 1992 Fountain Fire, which burned through where she now lives in Shasta County.
Previously, Tanner led the opposition to the Fountain Winds Project in Shasta County. The project proposed to build 72 wind turbines on a ridge line, which is more prone to accidents, in the burn scar of the 1992 Fountain Fire. Tanner worried that the project would present a fire hazard and jeopardize her community’s water. She maintained that she’s not against renewable energy altogether, just projects that put people in danger.
At one point, she said, a proponent of the project implied that she couldn’t understand the document because she lived in a rural area.
“Many people are educated and smart, but choose to live in that kind of place,” said Tanner, who grew up in Los Angeles.
She discovered that opposition to the Fountain Winds Project wasn’t uniform, but had an array of political persuasions and backgrounds: “I worked with anti-Trumpers, Trumpers, Native Americans, hippies.”
Though she’s running as a Republican, Tanner said that she cares more about the issues than the party.
“I never set out to be a politician,” she said. “I set out to fight for my community.”
To address fire, she wants to increase resilience through cleaning the forest of vegetation and performing more controlled burns, which California air laws limit. She said the forest should look “like a park,” with spaced out trees. Tanner also supports the use of biomass fuels, which can burn ladder fuels that present a fire risk for energy.
Beyond fire, Tanner also wants to address homelessness, the economy, and public safety.
She thinks that inflation isn’t a problem that can be easily solved by a politician, but said that the gas tax is killing liberals and conservatives alike.
“I put over 4,000 (miles) on my car in a month. So I understand the gas prices,” Tanner said.
When it comes to homelessness, she said that too many politicians throw money at the problem without getting at the root of it. If elected, she said that she would perform an audit to find out how homeless people became homeless in the first place.
Tanner also wants to address crime, which she said presents unique difficulties in rural communities. Sheriffs in rural communities have to cover larger areas, and property theft can set people back thousands of dollars. Tanner said that her neighbor had to hold up a cartel at gunpoint by herself.
Tanner described herself as straightforward and honest. She wants people to feel that she’s one of them.
“I don’t make promises I don’t intend to keep,” she said. “I’ll try to listen, and if you hate me, you can come and yell at me.”
Tanner’s brother is disabled, and she grew up watching her mother fight to expand his rights under the American Disabilities Act. She wants to bring that fighting spirit to the job of state assemblywoman.
“I’m very protective,” she said. “I’m protective of my community.”
Shira Moolten is a freelancer with The Union
Name: Josh Brown
Occupation: Collecting Social Security, listening to music and walking
City of residence: Cottonwood
Name: Megan Dahle
Occupation: State assemblywoman, farmer and small business owner
City of residence: Fall River Mills
Name: Belle Starr Sandwith
Occupation: Launching a small business, Shoulder Sweet Spot
City of residence: Loyalton
Name: Kelly Tanner
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom, wildfire preparedness volunteer
City of residence: Round Mountain