In a 90-minute interview with CalMatters, the farmer and state senator from Lassen County talks about crime, climate change and the cost of living, and vows to cooperate with Democrats.
They might not agree on much, but Republican gubernatorial hopeful Brian Dahle pledges that Democratic lawmakers would find a more receptive partner at the Capitol if he unseats Gov. Gavin Newsom this year.
After a decade in the GOP’s (super)minority in Sacramento, Dahle, a state senator, said he knows how to build relationships across the aisle and pass bipartisan legislation — inviting colleagues to his seed farm in Lassen County, bringing them fresh peaches from a neighbor and annually gifting them See’s candies, purchased through a fundraiser to help a local eighth grade class visit the state Capitol.
“They’ll have more access to the horseshoe than they do now,” Dahle said during a 90-minute April interview at the CalMatters office in Sacramento. “I will have every single legislator in my office when I’m governor, and we will talk about their district and we will talk about the challenges and we will find places we can work together.”
Dahle points to his work on major legislation carried by Democratic colleagues — including a 2016 measure to stop surprise medical bills for insured patients who are treated by out-of-network specialists at in-network facilities — as his proudest accomplishments.
“It will be a different atmosphere in that building” if his underdog campaign is successful, he said, far more cooperative with legislators than under Newsom, whom Dahle has slammed as a “dictator” for largely governing by executive order, without the Legislature’s input, during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ll find out what they care about. Because all of us love California, there’s just too much politics in this place,” Dahle said.
Here are five issues that he said would be a priority if he is elected governor.
‘Get violent criminals off our streets’
Like many Republican candidates this election, Dahle is focused on crime rates in California. He said that, if political reality was no obstacle, his primary goal as governor would be to “get violent criminals off our streets and back off our streets and get repeat criminals off our streets.” That requires more funding for local law enforcement agencies, he said, which have taken on a greater share of the burden over the past decade as California reduced the population of its overcrowded prisons.
Dahle also wants to roll back much of Proposition 47, an initiative approved by voters in 2014 to reduce some property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, which he blames for enabling serial shoplifting. He would maintain the reduced penalties for drug possession, however.
“I’m not for putting people in jail if they have been smoking marijuana and they were nonviolent criminals,” he said. “Most of those people were nonviolent criminals.”
‘We need charging stations’
Dahle said his perspective has shifted the most on environmental issues during his decades in public office. He sees unique opportunities for collaboration, because of his own experience as a Lassen County supervisor, working with both environmental activists and the forestry industry to lobby the federal government for better forest management policies.
“What I learned in that process was, we don’t hear each other sometimes,” Dahle said. “We have a lot in common if we just would listen and hear each other and spend time together. I think that’s what’s really lacking. And so that’s been something that I’ve picked up that has really changed my outlook on how to legislate.”
Dahle’s focus would be building more transmission lines so that clean energy could be shared from one part of California to another, rather than being exported out of the state when there is an excess supply. He said that would also help secure the grid for the transition to electric vehicles, though he does not support Newsom’s mandate that all new cars sold in California be zero-emission by 2035.
“We need to make sure the grid is in a place where we can actually put electric vehicles and hubs in the cities,” he said. “We need charging stations. We can’t have electric vehicles if we don’t have enough charging stations.”
‘If you frivolously sue…you have to pay’
Dahle believes the biggest obstacle to building more housing and increasing affordability is the California Environmental Quality Act, also known as CEQA, the landmark state law that requires government agencies and developers to study and mitigate the environmental effects of proposed projects.
While it was a “great law” in its original intent, Dahle said, “unfortunately, it’s turned into a pawn in many schemes,” misused by rival companies, labor unions and neighborhood groups to hold up projects they don’t like.
To get around powerful interests that block any significant changes in the Legislature, Dahle said he would support a ballot measure to increase penalties for abuse of the environmental review process.
“We need to, first of all, hold people accountable who are using CEQA to sue just to extract,” he said. “If you frivolously sue and you lose and continue to lose, you have to pay. You have to pay for this because you’re just holding up the process. It’s really not mitigating the impacts.”
‘We can produce it right here in California’
To bring down the cost of living for Californians, Dahle said he would also work as governor to lower the price of electricity. Studies estimate that consumers here pay on average 60% more for power than the rest of the nation.
In addition to his focus on building more transmission lines — which Dahle said would reduce costs by making energy options more widely available throughout California — he supports ramping up the production of oil in the state. He said it is safer and more efficient than importing from other countries.
“I would rather us put Californians to work,” Dahle said. “At the same time, it’s better for the environment. We can just pipe the oil to the refinery, and we can produce it right here in California.”
‘Spacing of the trees’
As California sinks deeper into drought conditions, Dahle does not favor imposing mandatory water use reductions, which he called “a sound bite that I don’t believe is going to make much difference at all.” He raised particular concerns, as a farmer, that harsh restrictions would further devastate California agriculture by forcing farms to fallow hundreds of thousands of acres of land.
Dahle said the state should put a greater emphasis on increasing water storage by building the proposed Sites Reservoir. He also has a novel idea to improve water supply by thinning forests, a policy that would offer other benefits such as providing timber and reducing wildfire risks.
“When the snow lands on the trees, on the limbs, it evaporates,” Dahle said. “When the snow lands on the floor, when you have the spacing of the trees, it actually goes into our watershed and is purified, and it’s good, clean water for the habitat and for us.”