Before last year’s election, not many people outside the Chico area knew Audrey Denney’s name. Today, she is a driving force for the local Democratic party, having announced her 2020 candidacy for the District 1 Congressional seat that has been occupied by a Republican for more than 30 years.

Before last year’s election, not many people outside the Chico area knew Audrey Denney’s name. Today, she is a driving force for the local Democratic party, having announced her 2020 candidacy for the District 1 Congressional seat that has been occupied by a Republican for more than 30 years.

Denney is the guest speaker at Saturday’s “Paint Siskiyou Blue” fundraising event, which will take place at the Montague Community Hall. In advance of her Siskiyou County visit, Denney was interviewed by the Siskiyou Daily News about her motivation to run again, her campaign and hot topics that are relevant to Siskiyou County voters.

Q: What is motivating you to take on LaMalfa again?

A: The same deep, visceral call to step out and serve my country motivates me. Our district needs an active, engaged, solutions-oriented leader who will work hard on the complex issues facing our region. We need a representative that listens to and works for all the people – regardless of party affiliation. We need a leader that is only accountable to the real people in our district – not special interests. In four terms in Washington D.C. - our congressman hasn’t demonstrated that he is that leader. I believe I will be the leader we need.

Q: How did it feel to garner as many votes as you did in November?

I am incredibly humbled to have received over 131,000 votes and 45% of the total vote. Before the 2018 midterms, the congressman won re-election by an average of 20 points above the challenger. Our campaign got that down to nine points, after only campaigning for 10 months. I’m excited to see what we can do with two years!

Q: Are you changing anything about your platform since the previous election?

This campaign is still about the people who live in this district. Making sure we are doing everything we can to ensure that they have access to rural healthcare, career and technical education that will get them good jobs, protecting our seniors and veterans benefits, and making sure our communities are safe from wildfires. A full list of issues and priorities can be found on my website: www.audreyforcongress.com

Q: Have you felt a dip or rise in support since November?

Election night in November was the most incredible night of my life. Over 1,000 people jammed into a historical theater in downtown Chico to celebrate the movement we created. There were people from all 11 counties in the district, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. There was a 93-year-old woman and babies. There were first time voters and lifelong voters. People of all walks of life were there. Even though the race was called for the congressman early that night – we stayed and celebrated all night. Because election day in 2018 wasn’t the end, it was really the beginning of the change we’re ready for in this district. Since my announcement in late February – I’ve been blown away by the momentum and support that has poured out. It is going to be a fun 20 months of connecting with people, learning from them, and building our movement.

Q: What is your message to Siskiyou County Republicans who may be considering voting for you in 2020?

I get it. I was a registered Republican for 10 years (and I’ve only been of voting age for 17 years). I have a lofty vision about helping our country live into the best of our American values. I dream of a country where we’re not defined by being “Republican” or “Democrat” – but defined by being Americans. I’m a deeply pragmatic person. I did the books for two small businesses and own a small farm management business - fiscal irresponsibility and government waste drive me crazy. I want to help make our federal government work more efficiently. Working in the private sector, I’m inspired by the innovation, agility, and creativity of the entrepreneurial American spirit. When I look at how the federal government operates - I don’t see those qualities. To have a truly healthy American free market economy that works for all of us – we all need to be participating. I believe in “hand-ups” - empowering and equipping people to take care of themselves. This means helping people become productive citizens through education and training, and while protecting the most vulnerable among us, orphans, widows, and the disabled. To find solutions for the complex issues facing our region – we need all voices at the table. When you send me to Washington D.C. to represent you – I will do just that. I will only be accountable to you – the people. Not party leadership or special interests.

Q: What is your favorite location in District 1? In Siskiyou County?

I’m lucky to have gotten to live overseas twice and visited most of our 50 states – and our district is my favorite part of the world! Asking me to pick my favorite location within the district is a lot like asking Ken Grossman, owner of Sierra Nevada Brewery, which of his beers is favorite … I did that once when I worked for him in my 20s! He said he couldn’t pick – neither can I. I loved getting to explore different parts of the district last year and I’m excited to spend more time doing this over the next 20 months. As far as my favorite place in Siskiyou County - When I’m in Siskiyou County I always try to hit Jefferson’s Roadhouse in Yreka or Denny Bar in Etna – I’m a sucker for a good steak. I also love hiking around the Lava Beds at Tulelake and trying to read the petroglyphs and carvings.

Q: What is your take on dam removal? When you were in Siskiyou County last you said you needed to research it further.

When it comes to dam removal, it looks like most of the policy decisions surrounding it will be taken care of before I’ll be in office in 2021. The federal government, state government, and tribes are on board. The project will bring half a billion dollars to our area’s economy. This will be the biggest investment in Siskiyou County since I-5 was built - we need to be ready to take advantage of that. Siskiyou County has one of the highest unemployment rates in California - we need to be positioning local residents to get the high-paying jobs that will come as part of this project and the restoration economy that will come after.  We should be working with College of the Siskiyous to be making sure we’ll have a trained skilled workforce ready to take the jobs.  As a county, if we want to attract industry and jobs to the area - its counterproductive to try to force private enterprises to retain assets that don’t make them any money.  The dams in question provide no irrigation water, no drinking water, and negligible flood control.  Dam removal will likely mitigate the disease problems affecting fish in the Klamath – making it easier to solve the decades long water balancing act. 

Q: What is your take on the cannabis industry and it proliferation in District 1 and Siskiyou County, specifically?

Illegal planting of cannabis on public lands has become a dangerous issue in our district. Even with legalized production, drug cartels continue to plant hidden plots of cannabis on public lands. They divert water sources and dump poisons and chemicals on the ground and in the water. After occupying a plot for several months and harvesting, they move on but leave behind dead animals, garbage, and human waste. Cleaning up these plots is necessary for public safety, as well as the environment. When the plots are cleaned up, the cartels are less likely to return to the same place. We need to increase funding for clean up efforts. We also need to invest in prevention, by increasing the number of law enforcement rangers and aircraft to patrol our parks, national forests, and public lands.

Q: How do you propose stimulating the local economy in Siskiyou County?

I want to get to work on policy fixes that will create market incentives to help biomass plants (like Weed Cogen) be more economically viable. Right now, sustainably collected woody biomass off public lands doesn’t qualify for RINs under the Renewable Fuel Standard – so Siskiyou County does not benefit from the positive economic impacts of the RFS that is currently being enjoyed by midwestern corn growers. If they economic incentives were in place – we could be doing selective logging, clearing burn piles, limbing trees, doing the critical fuels reduction work on our federal lands and using that biomass to create energy with a low-carbon footprint. That means good jobs, more dollars in our economy, and protection from wildfires - as well as environmental and ecosystem services benefits. Advanced technology to create clean fuels from woody biomass is being installed at a plant in Lakeview, Oregon - Siskiyou County should be benefiting from this as well.

At a federal level, we’ve also got to guarantee full funding of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program. In 2018, Siskiyou County received over $3,000,000 in compensation from the federal government for it’s lost tax revenue on the 62% of the county’s land mass that is owned by the federal government. That program is critical for the economy’s of rural counties with high amounts of public lands and must be protected and expanded.

Our community colleges, like College of the Siskiyous, are the economic drivers of our counties. We must fully support career and technical education that prepares the workforce for high-paying, dignified jobs in our counties. One of my priorities is to increase availability of career and technical education locally, with localized specialties, including online courses, satellite campus, and partnerships for workforce and economic development. Additionally, we need to invest in infrastructure development - making our roads safer and expanding access to rural broadband. This infrastructure investment will help bring in new industries and create more good paying jobs. When we do - we must prioritize the use of local businesses in infrastructure improvements and other government spending projects.