Bitter recall campaign highlights political fault lines in Northern California

With the Shasta County election approaching, recent Board of Supervisors meetings have turned into matchsticks, allegations of mis-spent funds and calls for the resignation of county officials.

A regular list of speakers peppers the board with complaints about the county’s COVID-19 response, a lack of member conservatism and frustration with the very rules of public comment at meetings. The January 18 board meeting was held remotely due to threats made against three members.

This political tone in Shasta County sets the stage for the recall election.

“Certainly not in my career, I started in 2003, and I’m not aware of a supervisor recall in Shasta County,” says Shasta County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen.

HOW WE GOT HERE

Next month’s recall focuses on one supervisor, District 2 Representative Leonard Moty. It represents a triangle of rural communities west of Redding. Last spring, organizers tried to recall three of the five supervisors, but only collected enough signatures for the Moty district.

Shasta County District 2 is in the focus of a recall election on February 1, 2022. The map above is from 2011 before the redistricting, which will be the focus of the recall.

The band members Recall Shasta did not respond to multiple interview requests. But, recent meetings of the oversight board are filled with protests from recall supporters against state vaccination mandates, objections to the acceptance of federal funds and verbal abuse of officials.

“It’s hard to do people’s jobs when there are all these distractions and anxieties,” says Greg Balkovek, a longtime Redding resident.

Balkovek, who calls himself a politically conservative, is the former executive director of the United Way of Northern California and a volunteer with the Redding School Board, the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club. He says the recall effort, which includes a series of big-budget documentaries, is impacting Shasta County.

“The things that they said and did, with the sophistication that they show, arouse a certain interest,” he says. “I don’t think it’s in the best interests of the county, from my particular perspective.”

The Recall Shasta campaign was largely funded by a single Connecticut donor, Reverge Anselmo, whose nearly half a million dollars in donations far dwarfs local contributors.

The Shasta County Board of Supervisors are technically nonpartisan positions, but residents have 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 more to the right. If Moty is removed, the scales will tip more to the right, toward Jones and Baugh who have advocated disobeying California’s pandemic mandates and flaunting COVID safety protocols.

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Shasta County supervisors and other county staff in a remote council meeting.

THE IMPORTANCE OF A REMINDER

But two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, some wonder whether recalling a supervisor will have tangible effects or be largely symbolic.

“They don’t control much on their own because most of their projects and everything is state funded and state funds and state guidelines,” says longtime resident Archer Pugh. dates from Shasta County, who served as mayor of Redding and a member of the city council in the 70s and 80s.

“You don’t have a lot of independent wiggle room,” Pugh says. “If you look at the county budget, their general fund budget that they have wiggle room with is very small.”

Pugh, who considers himself a moderate conservative, says the recall is evidence of the polarization of local politics in recent years.

Besides Moty’s potential removal, supervisors Baugh and Chimenti announced that they would not seek re-election at the end of their terms for the next two years.

AUDITS AND OBSERVERS

With the recall election officially a week away, residents of District 2 have already received ballots through California’s Universal Vote-by-Mail Law. Twelve polling stations will also be open for in-person voting on Election Day.

The elections office will perform two separate checks before certifying the results, says clerk Cathy Darling Allen. She says that with so much local tension surrounding this election, she expects a lot of interest from observers as the votes are counted.

“We’re happy to have people come see what we’re doing and explain how the process works if people have questions,” she says.

After Feb. 1, election officials will have 28 days by law to complete the count and certify the results.

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