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Senator Brian Dahle. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

2020 General Election Preview: 1st Senate District

California Globe takes an inside look into the 1st Senate District race

By Evan Symon, October 27, 2020 2:20 am

Taking up pretty much all of Northeastern California, the 1st Senate District is mostly forest, mountains, and farms.  One of the largest senate districts, the 1st includes Alpine, El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou counties, as well as parts of Sacramento and Placer counties The district has ‘North State’ written all over it and has been in the news a lot recently thanks to COVID-19 restrictions challenges and wildfires happening throughout the district.

While very rural, there are still a few cities here like Redding, as well as the district brushing up against some Sacramento suburbs. While mostly white, there is also a sizable minority of Hispanics here as well, most of whom are farm workers and laborers. Needless to say, rural values are big here.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

The district has been red for decades, with Cox and Trump scoring sizable victories in the district in the last Gubernatorial and Presidential election respectively. The GOP has more registered voters here than the Dems, 42% to 30%, and voters have shown little sway with state and national voting trends. Republicans always get at least 60% of the vote after all.

Assemblywoman Megan Dahle (Photo: Dahleforassembly)

Since redistricting, there have only been two state Senators here: for Senator Ted Gaines and current Senator Brian Dahle (R-Bieber). Gaines was Senator from 2011, winning a special election to take the seat following the death of former Senator Dave Cox earlier that year. Gaines handedly won in 2012 and 2016 but had to bow out as Senator in 2019 after he was elected to the state Board of Equalization. Then Assemblyman Dahle filled that Senatorial gap, winning a close special election last year to fellow Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin). Dahle’s wife, Assemblywoman Megan Dahle (D-Bieber) then took his place in the Assembly, winning her own special election.

With Republicans only coming close to fellow Republicans here in elections, the GOP seems to have a hold here. Dahle beat Democrat Pamela Swartz here by over 20 points in the primary. It’s going to be hard coming back from that.

The candidates:

Senator Brian Dahle. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Brian Dahle – Despite only serving a little more than a year as Senator here, Dahle is something of a household name in the North State. A wheat farmer, Dahle turned to politics in the mid-90’s when he became a Lassen County Supervisor. After gaining popularity by balancing the County’s budget, he was elected to the state Assembly in 2012. There he focused on property, farming, and forestry issues, as well as improving technology in rural areas. This won him a lot of support, likely giving him the edge over Kiley last year.

And, besides his”Christians only” gaffe last year, he has been surprisingly free of controversy.

Dahle can be considered a right-leaning Republican – by California standards at least. However, environmental groups don’t know what to make of him. He passes a lot of pro-business legislation that can hurt the environment up North, but he has also personally written environmental protection bills too, as forests and parks are very important up there as well. Most environmental groups give him around a 50%, with the Sierra Club giving a Republican a rare non-zero score.

In addition to his pro-business and small-business stance, Dahle is making some surprising stances on housing, affordability, and poverty. He also wants to make college more affordable. Democrats are already not having an easy time gaining ground against him, and when he has stances on many of their bigger arguments, he’s been stealing their thunder.

Also, name a Republican up here and he has their support.

With so much appeal to the right, center, and even into the DINO left territory, Democrats are having a hard time finding anything on Megan’s husband.

State Senate Candidate Pamela Swartz. (photo: SCD)

Pamela Swartz – Challenging Dahle is Democrat Pamela Swartz. A Berkeley graduate with a Forestry major, Swartz is a small business owner and has been so in Nevada County for three decades. While she has environmental and business bona fides through experience, she comes into the election with no prior elected experience. That being said, she is taking a page from the Bernie Sanders playbook and isn’t accepting corporate money, putting Dahle on the defensive about his funding for the first time in a long time.

Swartz is coming out to the left of Dahle on everything, and even on issues they agree with, especially wildfire concerns. She wants to bring more technology, especially broadband internet, to the North State, and is also hammering home on other policies similar to Dahle’s.  She is giving him a lot of grief about rural healthcare acces, and has gone after his voting record directly. An entire part of her website is actually devoted to this. Her education policy, especially the part about bringing a state 4-year college up to Redding, has also been haunting Dahle since the primaries as there has been no real argument against it.

Schwartz has pulled together a lot of union support, as well as getting a lot of Hispanic groups to support her. In terms of overall endorsements, her numbers have shot higher than even Dahle’s since the primary. But, considering the district, it still hasn’t been close to enough.

What does this mean?

Dahle is winning this race hands down. But with Redding getting bigger and Sacramento suburbs growing out, Republicans want to keep an eye on this one. Redistricting could be harsh here in a few years, and the GOP doesn’t want to lose one of it’s remaining district locks.

Wildfire issues will also be a big future issue here, and both parties want to see how people respond. If voters stick with the GOP here, what will they do to help control the fires out here better? And if they can’t, could local and state Dem leaders rise up? It’s unlikely in the short term, but neither party is only looking ahead a few years in a state like California.

Dems will also see if Swartz can break Dahle’s 60% streak. If she does, the GOP will know that they need to redouble their efforts here in 2022.

But for this coming election day, it’s all but certain who will win.

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Evan Symon
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One thought on “2020 General Election Preview: 1st Senate District

  1. “He passes a lot of pro-business legislation that can hurt the environment up North …”

    Please, one example of legislation that has “hurt the environment up North”? There’ve been plenty of bills that misguided Sierra Club types opposed, but they are increasingly out of step with the conditions on the ground and what our forests need. Preventing massive catastrophic fires is definitely pro-environment

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