© 2024 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
Listen | Discover | Engage a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What’s at stake in the Shasta County Board of Supervisors race?

Four headshots of political candidates in a collage
Erin Resner, Kevin Crye, Baron Browning & Chris Kelstrom
Campaign websites & social media
Candidates for the Shasta County Board of Supervisors. Left to right, Top: Erin Resner & Kevin Crye for District 1, Bottom: Baron Browning & Chris Kelstrom for District 5

While California is largely Democratic, Republican strongholds remain in the northern part of the state. The November election in Shasta County will serve as a referendum on the current far-right majority on the five-person board of supervisors.

Since taking control of the county early this year, the ultra-conservative majority has lifted COVID-19 restrictions, fired the county’s public health officer and given a platform to election fraud conspiracy theorists such as Douglas Frank, who spoke before the board in September.

The county’s shift in an increasingly conservative direction has received nationalattention, and now voters get to decide if they want to keep the far-right majority.

The new majority

Fueled by frustration over the handling of pandemic restrictions in the county, voters recalled County Supervisor Leonard Moty, a Republican, earlier this year in favor of a more conservative replacement.

That election shifted the balance of power on the board, giving the new conservative majority authority to make decisions on how the county is run.

“I guess the best thing that could have happened was the recall of Leonard Moty,” said Supervisor Patrick Jones in a September interview. “Because it brought national and international attention to Shasta County.”

After the recall, Board Chair Les Baugh began to lay out his priorities for the new majority, according to the Record Searchlight. Many of those goals have already been accomplished, including firing the county’s public health officer Dr. Karen Ramstrom. His other plans included rescinding COVID-19 mandates created at the beginning of the pandemic, which were the kindling for the recall effort.

This year two seats on the board of supervisors will be filled with non-incumbent candidates. Both moderate board member Joe Chimenti and conservative Les Baugh are stepping down this year, giving voters the opportunity to decide which direction they want their county to head.

In both Districts 1 and 5, runoff elections will take place between moderate Republicans and far-right candidates.

District 1: Resner and Crye

While the seats on the board of supervisors are non-partisan, all of the candidates running this year are Republican. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in Shasta County two-to-one.

Two candidates are running this year with different views on the future of Shasta County.

First is Erin Resner, who got the most votes in the primary election, but not enough to secure an outright victory, with around 48% of the vote.

Resner currently serves on the Redding City Council and was formerly mayor. Resner has the backing of Shasta Vote, a political action committee which has the support of those who opposed Moty’s recall. Most of their funding comes from Sierra Pacific Industries ($150,000) and the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians ($100,000). The Paskenta owns and operates the Rolling Hills Casino in Tehama County.

In a candidate forum in April, Resner said building more affordable housing is an important priority of hers. She adds there’s a morale problem within county departments, noting the numerous vacancies. The County Executive Officer, Matt Pontes, resigned in June. And the county’s public health officer position remains unfilled after Dr. Ramstrom was fired by the conservative board in May. A finalist for the position was offered the job in August, but declined the offer, according to the Record Searchlight.

Her opponent, Kevin Crye, is backed by the Liberty Committee, a group that supported the recall effort. One major funder is Reverge Anselmo, a Connecticut billionaire who fought a lengthy legal battle with the county over his winery. After losing that fight and leaving the county, he’s given at least $1 million to local politicians supporting his views. That committee has spent almost $30,000 on Crye’s campaign to date, according to campaign finance filings.

Crye is the owner of a local gym and a first-time politician. He says he wants to focus on dealing with homelessness in the county and support local businesses. Crye also wants to take a tough look at how the county is spending its money on social services. He says the county should be funding programs that are proven to create value in the community.

Crye has accused Resner of poor financial management with the City of Redding. But according to the city’s latest budget, the city had additional funding to put into their savings account. The city also approved $1.3 million in pay raises for its top executives in January, in an effort to retain staff. According to the Redding Record Searchlight, that decision was made because of an improving economy and sound fiscal decisions by the city over the last few years.

A common thread among conservative politicians in Shasta County is fighting for local control, and resisting mandates from the state of California that they believe are bad for their community.

“People there have their backroom deals and nobody cares about us up here in Shasta County,” Crye said about state and federal governance in an April interview. “But the people that represent us in Shasta County, I always figured they had our best interests in mind. And then I realized that’s not the case at all and it’s almost no different than state or federal government.”

Many of the COVID-19 restrictions that fueled the recall effort were state mandates. Moderate supervisors argued they were beyond the board’s control.

The winner will replace retiring board member Joe Chimenti, a member of the moderate wing.

District 5: Browning and Kelstrom

Baron Browning, considered the moderate candidate, got around 43% of the vote in the June primary, the most out of any candidate but not enough to win outright.

Browning is currently the mayor of Anderson, a small town a few miles south of Redding. Browning is also supported by Shasta Vote and endorsed by Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson.

Browning describes himself as fiscally conservative, touting his time on the Anderson city council in helping to balance the city’s budget.

In a League of Women Voters debate in September, Browning said water rights, wildfire safety and crime are some topics he’d like to address as supervisor.

Browning is running against Chris Kelstrom, another political newcomer, who is also supported by the Liberty Committee. Kelstrom is endorsed by outgoing Supervisor Baugh, who had previously supported Browning before changing his mind this month in a Facebook post. Kelstrom is also endorsed by Patrick Jones, one of the more conservative members of the board, who broke COVID restrictions in 2021 by allowing the public into supervisor meetings.

Kelstrom has advocated for term limits for the board of supervisors, saying supervisors should be able to accomplish their goals in two four-year terms.

Kelstrom is also deeply involved in the State of Jefferson movement, a political faction arguing the Oregon and California state governments don’t represent their far southern and northern regions, respectively, and advocating for the creation of a new state.

In the same League of Women Voters debate, Kelstrom said building a new jail, addressing crime, and access to water are all important topics to tackle in the coming years.

June’s primary offers hints as to what to expect

Despite recent wins by conservative politicians in Shasta County, the midterm election in June showed voter’s willingness to reject the post-recall conservative majority.

Moderate candidates for superintendent of schools, county clerk, district attorney and sheriff all took over 50% of the vote, winning their elections outright without the need for a runoff election in November, even after facing more conservative challengers.

Among the winners was County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen, who has faced frequent criticism by far-right county residents. Darling Allen won her election with the greatest share of votes out of any candidate, nearly 70%.

“I believe that reflects our larger community’s interest in following the rule of law,” Darling Allen said in a September interview. “There are folks out there who don’t want us to follow the law.”

In spite of moderate wins during the primary, shifting the board of supervisors back to the center will be a challenge. With one moderate and one conservative member of the board stepping down, the only way for the moderates to take back control is to win both their elections. If either Kelstrom or Krye win their seats, the far-right majority will retain control of the county.

How to take part

Ballots have been mailed out for the November 8th election in California. Voters should return their ballot by mail or in a drop box by 8pm on election day. A full list of drop-boxes and polling locations can be found on the Shasta County Clerk’s website.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.