In Rural California, Republican Brian Dahle Plants the Seeds of a Campaign for Governor

With no water to irrigate his crops, Brian Dahle’s success as a farmer depends heavily on the whims of rain clouds drifting over the grassy valleys and frostbitten mountains of California’s northeastern frontier.

But it’s been a long dry spell for Republicans hoping to become governor of California. And the conservative legislator from Lassen County’s fate in this year’s election depends on a break in an unfriendly political climate in a state where the GOP spent years slowly withering into irrelevance.

“This is a tough race,” Dahle said about his decision to challenge Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. “There’s no denying it, but I believe that things are lining up. People are not happy. There’s more money in Sacramento than I’ve ever seen in my entire life. They’re throwing it around — and people are still mad.”

With the California Republican Party’s endorsement, Dahle is favored to finish in the top two in the June 7 primary. That’s the easy part. Once November comes, he faces the grim reality that Democrats outnumber Republicans in California by an almost 2-1 ratio.

Newsom won the 2018 governor’s race by the largest margin in half a century, and the $25.6 million he currently has in his campaign account swamps Dahle’s tally some 50 times over. Newsom already is using that financial advantage to attack Dahle as a loyalist of former President Trump and most recently as an opponent of abortion rights, both political anathemas in left-leaning California. Dahle’s opposition to government-mandated COVID-19 vaccinations promises to be another ripe target in the months ahead.

Newsom used that strategy to defeat the Republican-led recall in September. Dahle, however, said the potency of that message has waned. Voters have expressed frustration with Newsom, as recent opinion polls have shown, including his inability to handle the homelessness crisis and to tame California’s exorbitant housing costs. Democrats have had an iron grip on the power in Sacramento for the last 12 years, Dahle said, so they can’t dodge responsibility.

“What matters today is that California has the highest poverty rate, the highest crime and inflation is out of control,” Dahle said in a recent interview. “I’m going to ask Californians one question: Do you think your life’s gonna be better with him at the helm for another four years?”

Unlike Newsom’s top Republican challengers in the September recall and 2018 governor’s race, Dahle is not a political neophyte.

The 56-year-old Republican served on the Lassen County Board of Supervisors for 16 years before being elected to the California Legislature in 2012, where he served as Assembly Republican leader before being elected to the state Senate in 2018. He spent years working on water, forestry, wildfire and housing issues with elected officials from across the Western states.

Dahle was a member of the Quincy Library Group, a consortium of environmentalists, timber company representatives and elected officials representing the northeastern part of California. The group was formed to quell the decades-long, contentious fights over forest management policies for national forest lands in the northern Sierra Nevada.

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