Comprising of all or part of 9 different counties, the 1st Assembly district takes up a rough triangle in far north California, going from Lake Tahoe, to the Oregon border north of Redding, east to the California, Oregon, and Nevada corner border. Being far northern California, the district is largely rural, largely white, and largely Republican.
Unlike most districts in the state, GOP membership hasn’t dropped off too much here in the last few decades. If anything, it’s actually being bolstered. However, despite agriculture and rural values being king out here, residents care very much about land management and environmental issues, with wildfires and power shutdowns being big in the last few years. COVID-19 restrictions also play a part in important issues this year, as many counties in the district have been very much opposed to state lockdown efforts, with very few coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths.
Republicans have been a lock here ever since redistricting in 2012. Former Assemblyman and now Senator Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) led the way from the time of redistricting up until 2019, when Dahle left after winning a special election for State Senator. This opened the district up to a special election later that year, with Dahle’s wife, Assemblywoman Megan Dahle (R-Bieber), beating Democrat Elizabeth Betancourt 58% to 42%.
That should come as no surprise as A) the Dahle’s have big name recognition up there, and B) the area nearly always votes Republican. Trump won here in 2016 by double digits, and Cox won here big time over Gavin Newsom. It almost goes without saying.
However, the March primary results were a bit of a shock. Dahle barely got over 50% of the vote, with Betancourt getting close to 40%. The last time a primary was that close in the 1st district was in 2012, and that year had two Republicans in the top sports duking it out.
With the 1st now at least slightly vulnerable for the first time in years, Dahle is doubling down efforts while Betancourt is doing all she can to get votes.
Megan Dahle – Megan Dahle is the latest in the long line of California power couples in the state alongside her husband. In addition to being a large supporter during her husband’s Assembly and Senate runs, Dahle was elected to the Big Valley Joint Unified School Board. In 2019, she took her husband’s place in the Assembly, cementing the region as having all Dahle’s for state representation. Democrats in the area are none too happy about this fact. The Dahle’s are also known for their wheat farm up North, further affirming their close relation to farm issues.
After only a year in the Assembly, Dahle has adapted quite well. She has become known as a strong line Republican who does vote out of party on environmental issues here and there. She has also proved herself to be very pro-agriculture, winning a base of farmers and farm workers. It’s no wonder that one of the major planks of her platform in 2020 is increasing water storage.
Dahle has a curious blend of California-wide issues like homelessness and immigration alongside more localized issues. Her stance on wildfires is really speaking to voters in the area, as the counties in her district are among some of the highest risk in California. Power shutoffs here are also pulling people for her. In addition, Dahle has a strong education stance due to her school board background, which is something of a rarity among more rural lawmakers.
Among her endorsements are the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, almost every sheriff in the district, Senate Republican leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), and her husband.
Basically, she is the quintessential North State Republican. And her support reflects that.
Elizabeth Betancourt – If Dahle didn’t have a rival two years ago, she sure does now through her constant races against Elizabeth Betancourt. Betancourt served for four years as a Director on the Western Shasta Resource Conservation District Board and was also on the Community Development Advisory Committee for Redding. This won her enough name recognition to run against Dahle in the 2019 special election. Losing that, she got the party’s back once again earlier this year for her Assembly run, coming in second. But her close finish made people take notice. In November, she hopes she will finally have enough to beat Dahle.
Like Dahle, Betancourt shares many of the same North County and rural values. She is big on the environment, conservation, and water usage, with her own party not exactly being fans of her stance on the last one. And like Dahle, being a farmer is winning her support, even chipping away at Dahle’s agricultural voting bloc. However, despite these similarities, she loses a lot of right-center voters based on her views on mandatory vaccinations, gun restrictions, and homelessness. But she does put every issue through the lens of rural values, making even urban issues at least somewhat relevant, winning over many transplant voters, especially in Redding.
However, outside of Redding she still doesn’t have much pull. There’s not a lot of name recognition for her outside of the Redding metro area, and only core Democrats outside the city will likely vote for her.
She doesn’t have much in terms of endorsements, but she does have labor unions backing her, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), so farm workers are a likely lock for her.
What does this mean?
Despite the close primary, Dahle tends to nab centrists and undecided voters in prior elections due to many of them being more right-leaning. Betancourt will benefit from projected Trump-backlash, but considering how conservative the district is, it won’t be much.
The fact that Republicans aren’t that worried despite a close primary tells you that the GOP will most likely hold here. But it will be closer here than in most years prior. In fact, if Dahle gets under 55%, which is very much possible right now, Democrats could make a push here in 2022 or possibly look at how to redistrict the area to be more around Redding.
This is a Republican hold, but the real question on the minds of both parties is by how much it will ultimately be.