Five candidates seek the 1st Congressional District seat
Party: No party preference
Occupation: Real estate broker
Occupation: Farmer/U.S. Representative
Party: No party preference
Occupation: Work for nonprofit, leadership and youth development
There’s a crowded field for the 1st Congressional District seat up for election in March, with four challengers trying to unseat incumbent Doug LaMalfa.
The congressman is seeking his fifth term in Congress after winning reelection against Democrat Audrey Denney by 160,046 to 131.548 votes, or 54.9% to 45.1%, two years ago. The congressman for the first time lost two counties in that election — Nevada and Butte. He won every county in his first three elections to Congress.
LaMalfa’s challengers include Denney, as well as perennial candidate Gregory Cheadle and newcomers Rob Lydon and Joseph LeTourneau IV.
The top two vote-getters will advance to a November runoff, regardless of political party.
Gregory Cheadle first ran for Congress in 2011, when then-Rep. Wally Herger announced his retirement. But Herger endorsed LaMalfa, who won his seat and who has been reelected three more times.
Cheadle has opposed LaMalfa, unsuccessfully, four times before, but has no qualms setting himself up for a fifth go-around.
“If I looked at the odds, I wouldn’t be anywhere near to where I am today,” Cheadle said. “When you come from a background like I do, you can’t look at the odds … I wasn’t supposed to graduate from high school, I wasn’t supposed to go to college, certainly not get a law degree.”
Cheadle, who was born in Cleveland and grew up in Oakland, said he had planned to go to medical school but found his dream derailed when his son was diagnosed with cancer. He ended up getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in public administration.
“It led me down a different path,” he said.
Cheadle started law school late in life, noting, “When you’re a black person, your life is completely different. I had struggles from the moment I came out of the womb. … Blacks have more of a struggle.”
Cheadle now chooses to wrestle with the “Goliath” of politics because, he said, he sees his education and experience as a way to better society.
Cheadle said the priority for the “impoverished” district has got to remain the economy.
“We have no high tech, no booming economy,” he said. “People have been restricted by timber laws, mining laws and water laws.”
Cheadle recently changed his party affiliation, after he famously was called out in 2016 by President Donald Trump as “My African American.” He cited a subsequent interview on “The Colbert Report” as bringing him the kind of national attention that could be a benefit to this congressional district.
“Imagine the mind-blowing effect of having a black person win a seat in an all-white district,” Cheadle mused. “It would command a whole heck of a lot of attention.”
Beyond race, Cheadle highlighted his decision to leave the Republican Party as a plus to the district.
“I’m not bought, I don’t have to worry about a party telling me what to do and what to say,” Cheadle said. “I think the landscape has changed in that people are exhausted with politics. People in both camps say they are sick of it, this party does not represent me. … I hope to bring about some unity.”
Audrey Denney, who lost to LaMalfa by a nearly 10% margin in 2018, said the Camp Fire erupting just days after that loss strengthened her resolve to run again.
“A lot changed for me personally,” she said. “ It showed me how desperately we need real leadership.”
Denney, who lives in Chico, said 16 close friends and three campaign staffers lost their homes.
“Living through that collective trauma has really shaped and changed the lives of everybody who lives in this county,” she said. “It’s been really strengthening for a lot of folks — it’s built a lot of grit.”
Denny said she has become a stronger leader as a result, and a more aggressive campaigner.
“I was a lot nicer … last time,” she acknowledged. “Here’s the thing — you shouldn’t just get to be a congressman. You should have to work for this, prove you deserve this job. (LaMalfa) hasn’t done that.”
Denney said she’s both energized and completely over the current state of affairs.
“I’m not going to tolerate it any more. I’m tired of it,” she said. “Every day I talk to people who aren’t making a living wage, who have gone bankrupt, who can’t find affordable housing, who are struggling to make ends meet. They know they want change, and I’m going to fight with everything I have to make sure they get a representative that believes in them — and that’s not Doug LaMalfa.”
Denney was a registered Republican for 10 years before changing her party affiliation to Democrat. But, she said, her generation is tired of “partisan antics.”
“The political landscape in Washington is so hyper-partisan, it’s gridlock and literally nothing can get done,” she said. “We need a functioning government where we can compromise.”
Denney charged that LaMalfa is more than simply ineffective.
“On a weekly basis, he takes destructive votes that actually harm the people who live in this district,” she said. “And he is bought and paid for by corporate special interests. He votes in their interests instead of in ours.”
For example, Denney said, LaMalfa has voted ‘no’ on bills that would decrease the cost of prescription medications and on background checks for gun sales.
LaMalfa, she said, is a career politician and the district needs a real public servant.
“I run because I care about the people in this district and I want to work with them,” Denney said.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, said he’s running as an incumbent for District 1 to be able continue the projects he’s been working on, including fire safety, forest management and hardening the energy grid.
“There are a lot of issues in this rural district,” said LaMalfa, noting the severe threat wildfires pose to the northeastern California district.
LaMalfa said he also wants to improve infrastructure like freeways and highways, and wants to help expand broadband access.
To improve rural health care access, LaMalfa suggested increasing MediCare reimbursement rates to reflect costs burdening hospitals. He also suggested attracting more doctors and medical providers to live in rural and semi-rural areas.
In terms of problems regarding PG&E and the energy grid in northern and central California, LaMalfa suggested that the regulations affecting the utility company be relaxed.
“What they need is to be able to conduct business with more ability to conduct business instead of being dictated by the (California Public Utilities Commission),” he said.
LaMalfa said the company will “be a different looking company” once they exit bankruptcy, and should put their sole focus into hardening the grid, making it safer for customers and using hydroelectric and nuclear power, which is about to be phased out after the closure of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.
“I want the grid to be ready in two years,” he said.
LaMalfa voted ‘yes’ on the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, which passed the House on Dec. 11. The bill allows a pathway to citizenship for undocumented agricultural workers. The congressman said he was open to eventually adding construction workers onto the bill if it passes the Senate.
“I’m open to continuing the work,” he said, “I just don’t want to blow up with what we have and come out with nothing.”
LaMalfa said representatives need to strike a balance between building and reconstructing the U.S. border wall on the southern border and allowing citizenship for those who fall under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
“I get it, I have sympathy for (them),” he said. “But it has to be part of a bigger immigration reform discussion.”
Regarding the impeachment of President Donald Trump, LaMalfa called the process a “scam” and that it was conducted “behind closed doors.”
JOSEPH LETOURNEAU IV
Joseph LeTourneau is looking to heal the political chasm that he said has emerged between Republicans and Democrats. This is in part why he’s running without a party preference.
“I just feel like that divide needs to be healed,” he said.
LeTourneau said his big focus is on culture, and specifically empowering people with a bottom-up model — not one predicated on legislation.
“How do we stimulate forms of giving and empowerment within those different classes?” he asked. “How do we put a family structure back into our communities?”
Previously having worked with “street kids” in Ethiopia, LeTourneau said the best things he could provide those individuals was not food, clothing or shelter. What had the most durable impression on them was providing a feeling of belonging, and changing the formula, where they were not just recipients but also contributors to their own wellbeing.
“How do we empower each person to bring what they have to the table?” he asked.
The candidate does not want to exclusively focus on taxation or free-market economics, which he said he supports, but also include a sense of hope and value in his electorate.
“Wealth or giving can’t just be money, it has to be time and talent as well,” he said.
While there are a number of issues LeTourneau cares about — like homelessness — he said it will be most important to stimulate community programs with major actors like nonprofits, political representatives and businesses. Those agencies, he said, will help create pathways and structures to enable personal mobility.
“I don’t believe this role is supposed to be a top-down position,” he said. “I don’t believe we can rebuild the cultural divide through the very issues and measures that have created that divide. We need a different sort of conversation to rebuild in a better way and move forward.”
Rob Lydon is running for Congress with a background as a veterinarian and a perspective on preventative medicine. It’s this long-term view that Lydon believes is missing from federal government. Long-range plans and “ensuring we have the tools to accomplish our goals” — Lydon said these things are missing at the nation’s capital.
“This perspective needs to be brought to our federal government, in my opinion,” he wrote in an email.
While running as a Democrat, Lydon said he is a moderate in most regards, and that he’s “more interested in finding responsible consensus than seeing my ideology prevail.”
“The only issue about which I am adamant is eliminating deficit spending,” he wrote. “The achievement of that will have vital impact on our posterity. How we accomplish that is of less concern to me than that we accomplish it.”
In terms of his campaign strategy, Lydon wrote that he would not divulge too much. He noted that individuals are less concerned with party politics than the capacity and character of their representative.
“I believe that for an overwhelming majority of our constituents the party is of less concern than the character of their representative and his or her willingness to collaborate and represent the interests of their constituents,” he wrote.
Lydon is a trustee of Shasta College and said he recently completed a stint at the institution as the board president.
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