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Senator Brian Dahle. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

2020 March Primary Preview: 1st State Senate District

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

By Evan Symon, February 15, 2020 8:12 am

The 1st State Senate District:

The 1st State Senate District begins on the Oregon and Nevada borders then heads south all the way until it peters out as soon as it hits the Sacramento metro area. 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. If you were looking for the poster child of the North State, this is the district.

The district is deep red and has been a reliable Republican district for decades. The district is over 40% registered Republican and has proven to have a lot more who lean that way. Cox won here with 60% of the Governor vote two years ago, and Trump had a rare Californian district go over 50% for him in 2016. Needless to say, this is one of the few districts in California where the Democrats need a sacrificial goat candidate.

History of the 1st:

There has not been a Democratic Senator in this district since the Bicentennial. Oddly enough, there have been two resignations in the last 10 years, giving other parties a chance at taking the district, but it hasn’t even come close. In some elections it’s actually been Republican vs. Republican. Few California districts can claim that.

Former Senator Ted Gaines won three elections in the 1st between 2011 and 2016 and always hovered in the 60%-65% range of the votes, a figure that has actually held up for decades before. After Gaines resigned to take a State Board of Equalization position, A special 2019 election had former Assemblyman and now Senator Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) defeat fellow Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin). It was the first Senator election in the district to come with 10 points, but this was only due to both candidates being prominent Republican lawmakers. And to the surprise of many  the Sacramento area Kiley lost to North Stater Dahle.

This is the Republicans for sure, barring some sort of scandal.

Brian Dahle:

Senator Dahle has been in office for less than a year, but thanks to his time in the Assembly, he’s a household name. A former Lassen County Supervisor and Assemblyman, Dahle is currently joined in the state legislature by his wife, Assemblywoman Megan Dahle (R-Bieber), who won a special election late last year.

Dahle has been one of the few Senators to speak more for rural issues in both the Assembly and the Senate. Large picture bills, such as land use measures and forestry bills have been mixed with more specific bills, such as bringing internet into more rural and undeserved areas. Farm, water, and wildfire issues also top his list of priorities, as do tribal issues, as his district serves a substantial Native American population.

However Dahle has had a few issues come up, most notably last year during a meeting in Redding he was hosting asked for what many interpreted to mean ‘Christians only’. He still won, proving that he could smooth over potentially damaging gaffes. Despite that, Dahle comes in with a mountain of support from politicians and organizations, including from crucial police and firefighter unions.

It’s his to lose.

Pamela Swartz:

State Senate Candidate Pamela Swartz. (SCD)

With no other Republican running this year, and the only other candidate being low-tracking Independent Linda Kelleher, the top contender in the 1st is Democrat Pamela Swartz. A small business owner, Swartz comes in with no prior elected experience.

While she shares the same view on rural internet and fire related issues as Senator Dahlre, Swartz holds the Democratic line when it comes to Health Care. Her stance on education is also pretty blue for the region, but she does address an issue that Dahle hasn’t paid attention to much: bringing a major college to the North State. A Cal State or California University in Redding has long been discussed, but so far the closest one for residents in the 1st district is Chico. This one issue alone at least remotely gives her a chance, as the North State is often left out of many large state funded buildings.

She has pulled in some Young Democrats clubs and County Democrat organizations in terms of support, but otherwise there hasn’t been all that much. A victory here would be to pull Dahle under 60% and give Republicans something to think about going into redistricting. A smart move would be to hammer North State issues in combination with putting in a major college, but we’ll see where we are after the Primary.

What does this mean?:

Dahle has everything going for him, so he’s virtually a lock here. Voters have heard the name “Dahle” and seen the name on signs stuck in peoples front yards for years now, and there’s no changing that level of incumbency.

The race will be a final indicator on how the 1st district will possibly be changed next year. Redding is growing, as are the Sacramento suburbs to the south. If they split on population again, the 1st may end up even more rural and less diverse going into the next decade. If the Democrats have a good enough turnout, it may give the GOP and Democrats a reason to change things up. But if the Republicans have another “business as usual” win like that have had against Democrats for years, then it’s all status quo.

It’s going to be Dahle by a mile, or as Republicans hope, more than a mile.

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