Brian Dahle is from truly rural California: the tiny town of Bieber, with fewer than 300 residents, in the far northern county of Lassen. His family has ranched in the area for generations and he followed them into agriculture, starting his own seed company, which he has continued to operate during his forays into politics.
After a decade in the state Legislature, including a brief stint leading the Assembly Republican Caucus, Dahle is the most prominent GOP challenger to Gov. Gavin Newsom this year, though hardly a household name. Dahle has tried to position himself as the savior who can rescue California from liberal elitism run amok under Newsom, whom he slammed as a “dictator” and a “smooth-talking wine salesman” during his campaign kickoff. Dahle has called for overturning Proposition 47, the voter-approved initiative that reduced penalties for some theft and drug crimes, and for requiring that homeless people get sober before the state will provide them with housing assistance.
An unapologetic conservative, Dahle may appeal to enough Republicans to finish in the top two of the June primary, but he faces an uphill climb to win over the Democratic and independent voters he would need to topple Newsom in November. On key issues — including his support for former President Donald Trump and his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19 — he is outside the mainstream of the California electorate.
First elected to the Assembly in 2012, representing a vast swath of Northern California
Led the Assembly Republican Caucus for about 14 months between 2017 and 2018
Won a special election to fill a vacant seat in the state Senate in 2019
Few of his bills ever become law, as is typical for Republicans at the Capitol — so Dahle points to his role negotiating on major legislation led by Democrats, including the 2014 water bond, an extension of a program to develop broadband infrastructure in underserved areas, a measure to end surprise hospital billing and a commitment to more vegetation management in wildfire-prone areas
Lassen County Board of Supervisors
Served four terms on the board of supervisors for this rural county of about 30,000 people in far Northern California, best known for a pair of state prisons in Susanville
Led Rural County Representatives of California and the Western Interstate Region for the National Association of Counties, and served on the board of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy
Declared that the proudest accomplishment from his tenure is “leaving the county debt-free with its pensions fully funded”
“I love California. This is an amazing, beautiful state that used to be the land of opportunity. But its leadership is so poor that people are running for the state line.”
Here’s where Brian Dahle, applicant for governor, stands on some of the biggest questions facing California. Answers are from a sit-down interview:
Californians are increasingly concerned about crime, though the numbers paint a more complicated picture. Many Republicans are seeking to pounce, blaming voter-approved Proposition 47, which eight years ago lowered some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. While more Democrats are talking tough, they’re not proposing a return to longer prison sentences.
“We need to fund public safety in a manner that is appropriate to get the job done. And that is done obviously at the local level. … We’ve shoved our responsibilities down on the local level. They’re drowning… It’s basically a revolving door. They don’t have the personnel.”
“I will fund local law enforcement to go retrieve people who are felons that shouldn’t have firearms and take them away from them. … So domestic violence, people who are not stable, quite frankly, and they know they have firearms and we have the ability to go take those away, we should.”
California’s affordable housing crisis only deepened during the pandemic, as average home prices surged even further out of reach for many families. Homelessness likely worsened as well, prompting Gov. Newsom to propose forcing more homeless and mentally ill people into treatment. The Legislature twice extended a statewide eviction moratorium, but the final protections for renters ended on March 31. Lawmakers also tried to pump up housing supply by allowing duplexes on single-family lots, but cities are pushing back. Some also say the California Environmental Quality Act is stopping housing production.
“I actually think CEQA was a great law. … Unfortunately, it’s turned into a pawn in many schemes. … We need to, first of all, hold people accountable who are using CEQA to sue just to extract. … If you frivolously sue and you lose and continue to lose, you have to pay. You have to pay for this because you’re just holding up the process.”
“There are not enough clinicians, period. Number one. We need to prioritize giving tax credits or something, or education vouchers, for people that want to go into social services work. … I prefer to give block grants to counties, because counties are really the ones that are going to implement these services and this is a very diverse state.”
Even though the economy is rebounding from COVID, California still has among the nation’s highest jobless rates and hasn’t recovered all the jobs lost. The pandemic also highlighted how much the state relies on the wealthy for tax revenues that are fueling record budget surpluses — and raised again the issue of whether the tax system needs an overhaul.
“We have 60% higher electricity rates on average than anybody in the nation…so we need to take a look at…for all energy produced in California, what the bang for the buck we’re getting. … We should be producing our oil here because we do it in a way better than anybody in the world, safer, more environmentally friendly.”
“You have to allow companies to be able to stay in California, make sure that they have incentives to stay in California, and that’ll allow them to hire, which gives you good-paying jobs. … And by driving down the cost of living — your transportation, your electricity bill, your heat bill — those things directly are like putting dollars per hour in your pocket.”
On Jan. 31, the Legislature — despite its Democratic supermajority — again rebuffed a bid by progressives for a single-payer system funded and run by state government. Instead, the state is moving to expand eligibility for Medi-Cal, though the proposal would leave out many. And California is still sorting out how to deal with COVID, though regarding it more as a predictable threat.
“Our health care problems are because we eat horrible. I’m a farmer. Anything that comes in a package that wasn’t packaged by God is not healthy for you. I’m just going to tell you that. … We need to start educating young people and parents on our diet, which will help curve our later in life cost of healthcare. … The other thing we need to do is we need to have more competition in pharmaceuticals where we can drive the cost down.”
“We don’t need to be in a state of emergency with the governor making all the decisions. I actually have a bill that says the Legislature should, during a state of emergency, every 45 days decide whether we should be in a state of emergency and actually have that power. … I would consult with many doctors and consult with the Legislature, because we’re all in this together.”
California is stuck in a drought, with few signs the emergency will improve any time soon — or that voluntary measures will be enough. The state is also struggling to reach its goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while also advancing environmental justice for communities with dirty air and water.
“That’s just a sound bite that I don’t believe is going to make much difference at all. … We don’t manage our water very well in our reservoirs. We let that water go when we should be conserving that water. … We’ve conserved water in California about to where it’s really hard to conserve without fallowing land, which we’re going to do this year. … It’s a lot of economic reduction in California.”
“You want to save the environment? Build transmission lines. Period. We have power that we’re exporting out of California. We just need to use it in California, drive the cost down. I think we need to make sure the grid is in a place where we can actually put electric vehicles and hubs in the cities. We need charging stations. We can’t have electric vehicles if we don’t have enough charging stations.”
Public school enrollment has plummeted during COVID, the achievement gap for students of color has stubbornly persisted and the state is facing a severe teacher shortage. There are renewed debates whether more charter schools are a solution and whether the state’s extra investment in schools with poorer students is paying off.
“If there’s opportunity for the parents to be able to choose where their kids go to school, and they get to direct the money, you would see a lot of change. I think you’d see a lot better schooling.”
While California boasts the best and biggest public university systems in the nation, they’re in turmoil. The University of California is facing a student housing crunch at the same time it is under intense pressure to increase the number of in-state students. UC Berkeley needed intervention by lawmakers to avoid an enrollment cap. Meanwhile, the California State University just had its chancellor forced out and is struggling to improve access, including enough student housing.
“I like to see more of our Californians be able to have an opportunity to go.”