Bitter recall campaign highlights political fault lines in Northern California
A local political drama is playing out in Shasta County ahead of a Feb. 1 recall election. Just one member of the county board of supervisors faces removal. But it’s emblematic of the way frustrations over pandemic mandates have pinned targets on local elected officials.
As the Shasta County recall election approaches, recent board of supervisors meetings have devolved into shouting matches, allegations of misspent funds, and calls for county officials to step down.
A regular lineup of speakers pepper the board with complaints about the county’s COVID-19 response, a lack of conservatism of members, and frustration over the very rules of public comment during meetings. The board’s Jan. 18 meeting was held remotely because of threats made against three members.
This tone of politics in Shasta County is setting the stage for the recall election.
“Certainly not in my career, I started in 2003, and I don’t know of a recall for a supervisor in Shasta County,” says Shasta County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen.
HOW WE GOT HERE
Next month’s recall is focused on one supervisor, the representative of District 2, Leonard Moty. He represents a triangle of rural communities west of Redding. Originally last spring, organizers tried to recall three of the five supervisors, but they only collected enough signatures for Moty’s district.
Members of the group Recall Shasta did not respond to multiple interview requests. But, recent board of supervisors meetings are filled with recall supporters’ protests over state vaccine mandates, objections over accepting federal funds, and verbal abuse aimed at officials.
“It’s tough to get the work of the people done when you’ve got all these distractions and angst going on,” says Greg Balkovek, a longtime Redding resident.
Balkovek, who says he’s politically conservative, is the former executive director of United Way of Northern California and a volunteer with the Redding School Board, Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club. He says the recall effort, which includes a high budget documentary film series, is having an impact on Shasta County.
“The things that they’ve said and done, with the sophistication that they’re showing, that they’re attracting some interest,” he says. “I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the county, from my particular perspective.”
The Recall Shasta campaign has been largely funded by a single donor from Connecticut, Reverge Anselmo, who’s nearly half-a-million dollars in donations vastly overshadows local contributors.
The Shasta County board of supervisors are technically nonpartisan positions, but residents described all five members as Republicans. The members originally targeted by the recall, Mary Rickert, Joe Chimenti, and Leonard Moty, are moderate conservatives. Patrick Jones and Les Baugh are politically farther right. If Moty is removed, the balance will be tipped farther rightward, toward Jones and Baugh who advocated for disobeying California’s pandemic mandates and who have flaunted COVID safety protocols.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF A RECALL
But two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, some question whether recalling a supervisor will have tangible effects or be largely symbolic.
“They don’t control a whole lot on their own because most of their projects and everything is geared by the state and the state funds and the state directs,” says longtime Shasta County resident Archer Pugh, who served as the Redding mayor and a city council member in the 70s and 80s.
“You don’t have a lot of independent leeway,” Pugh says. “If you look at the county budget, their general fund budget that they have leeway to play with is very small.”
Pugh, who considers himself a moderate conservative, says the recall is proof of how polarized local politics have become in recent years.
Besides the potential removal of Moty, Supervisors Baugh and Chimenti have announced they won’t seek reelection when their terms end over the next two years.
AUDITS AND OBSERVERS
With the recall election officially a week away, residents of District 2 have already been sent ballots thanks to California’s universal vote-by-mail law. Twelve polling places will also be open for in-person voting on election day.
The elections office will do two separate audits before certifying the results, says Clerk Cathy Darling Allen. She says with so much local tension around this election she’s expecting lots of interest from observers during the vote count.
“We’re happy to have folks come in and see what we’re doing and explain how the process works if people have questions,” she says.
After Feb. 1, elections officials will have 28 days by law to complete the count and certify the results.