Monday, August 28, 2017

California's most rural Assembly member becomes minority leader

Brian Dahle, the assemblyman represented California's most rural district, Assembly District No. 1, became the chamber's minority leader last week.  Dahle is a third-term Republican from tiny Bieber, population 312, in the northern reaches of Lassen County.  Prior to his election to the California State Assembly in 2012, Dahle served for 16 years on the Lassen County Board of Supervisors. 

I know a bit about Dahle--or feel like I do--because he was generous enough to come speak to my Law and Rural Livelihoods class this past spring.  I found him to be a straight talker, middle-of-the road, Republican.  He has strong feelings about issues you would expect:  how public lands/forests are managed by the federal government, mostly in relation to fire (Smokey Bear is a culprit) and rural broadband.  He also talked quite the Republican talk on job creation, suggesting that public sector jobs don't count.  Dahle's bias is toward private sector jobs, not least because he and his wife own a small business--they have a seed farm.  As for those public lands and forestry management, Dahle said that as Lassen County Supervisor, he had more experience lobbying in Washington than in Sacramento because of the presence of so much public land in far northern California. 

One striking fact I learned about the district, which spans all or part of nine counties (all of Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, and Siskiyou counties, and portions of Butte and Placer) is that it takes eight hours to drive from one end of it to the other.  The southern most reaches are on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, and it stretches through the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains into the Cascades and all the way to the Oregon state line.  It's got to be hard to keep up with constituents under those spatial circumstances. 

Dahle's district includes the bulk of what would be the State of Jefferson (read some earlier posts on the topic here, here and here).  When our Law and Rural Livelihoods class asked Dahle about the State of Jefferson issue, he said that he was happy to talk about it but that it would "never happen."  That is, the State of Jefferson will never secede from California--and if it tried, it would not be permitted to do so.   He also suggested that many who support the State of Jefferson movement are economically disaffected, perhaps because they own a home and/or land in the district, but struggle to make a living there. 

The leadership position for the Republican Caucus came open when Chad Mayes was forced out of the role over his support of the gasoline tax that passed this summer.  Interestingly, Mayes also represents a rural-ish area, Yucca Valley, in southern San Bernardino County.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Dahle is also considered more conservative than Mayes, though he came across as quite centrist when he visited my class.  Here's a quote from the Los Angeles Times story about the leadership transition:
Other Republicans said Dahle has the leadership and bridge-building skills to heal the rift in the party, and a willingness to sit at the table with the majority party without surrendering on conservative principles.

“He’s a gifted leader,” said Shawn Steel, a Mayes critic and one of California’s two representatives to the Republican National Committee. “He’s an effective unifier of the caucus, and we really needed that. I’m so glad the drama is over. Chad was just not the right leader at the right time.” 
Mayes also praised his successor. 
“I’m actually very excited about Brian taking over as Republican leader,” Mayes said, standing next to Dahle in a state Capitol hallway. “He has proven himself to be a very strong leader, somebody who is of great character, who has a heart for California and a heart for the people of his district.”
As for me, I'm interested to see if Dahle's leadership position permits him to get more rural issues on the Assembly agenda--and to get those issues, e.g., rural broadband, acted on in a way that benefits rural communities and residents.  Prioritizing--or even equalizing--rural is a tough sell in a state where just 6-7% of the population live in rural places. 

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