State Assembly District 1 candidates Elizabeth Betancourt and Paul Dhanuka answer voter questions
Issues like home insurance, climate change and PG&E took center stage at the state Assembly District 1 forum — the first in a series of political forums set for Nevada County.
State Assembly District 1 candidates include Democrat Elizabeth Betancourt and Paul Dhanuka, no party preference. Republican incumbent Megan Dahle didn’t attend Thursday’s forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Western Nevada County.
“I wanted to hear from all the candidates,” said Nevada City resident Mark Nix, one of about 50 attendees. “I think it’s important to have these kinds of events so people can make informed decisions.”
Questions focused on fire safety and fuel reduction concerns; housing stock and building codes; PG&E and California Public Utilities Commission regulation; climate change and green economics; and the role of government and their plans once in office.
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Throughout the forum, Betancourt emphasized her experience working with state agencies and the opportunity to take advantage of her party’s supermajority in the Assembly.
“I have been lobbying the Legislature for many years now for rural interests, I’m a rural advocate,” Betancourt said. “I know staff in the Legislature, I know members… they know that I’m coming, they know where I stand.”
Dhanuka said as an independent he would be able to work across the aisle to heal the divisions he feels are holding back the state.
“Unfortunately, we live in a very divisive and partisan time, people are tired of it,” Dhanuka said. “As an independent who is not bound by any party politics, I can bring the people together.”
Both candidates agreed PG&E service has been inadequate and called for changes, but differed on what the source of the problem is and what the solution should be.
“I know first-hand, as well as from what the data says, that when natural monopolies are owned by public agencies they’re more answerable to the public, there’s higher quality of service provided and the costs are lower,” Betancourt said. “That’s the ideal solution, but how we get there will take time and expertise.”
Dhanuka said local control over the utility will create a path for better service, whether the utility company remains private or becomes publicly owned.
“PG&E for a long time has been more interested in their shareholders’ profits and contributing to all the politicians in the state,” Dhanuka said. “The problem isn’t whether they’re public or private, the problem is they’re too big to be good.”
Local resident Rich Benevento said he came to the forum to hear about the candidates’ take on how to deal with PG&E and fire prevention, among other issues, but wished they spent more time on talking about insurance.
“We’re getting gouged by insurance companies right now and neither one of the candidates really addressed what was happening with property insurance, fire insurance,” Benevento said. “I was kind of disappointed Megan (Dahle) wasn’t here, but it is what it is and I’m glad I came to hear what they had to say.”
According to Dhanuka, the first step toward more affordable insurance options is bringing regulatory power over insurance companies into local hands rather than the state insurance commission.
“This whole thing is wrapped up in the local control issue. Our interests are being ignored,” Dhanuka said. “Unless we bring the power back to our local control, not state, there is nothing we achieve with the insurance companies.”
According to Betancourt, instead of ceding control the state should take more initiative in providing public insurance options and strengthening the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan, called the FAIR Plan.
“At this point, because private insurance companies have proven perhaps not as dependable in a market affected by climate change, we need to maybe step in as the state of California and look at what that means to provide public insurance going forward,” Betancourt said.
In a response to questions about accepting the science of climate change, Dhanuka declined to directly answer whether he believes climate change is happening and caused by human activity.
“I’m focused on solutions, not pointing the finger and saying who is right and who is wrong,” Dhanuka said.
Betancourt said she believes the climate is changing. She added that she’d invest in biomass, which could mitigate the effects of climate change.
To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
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