Betancourt, who presently works for the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board as chief of the cannabis permitting and compliance unit, said she has focused her professional career on ensuring healthy forests and watersheds.

The sole Democrat running for Assembly District 1 said she is “not afraid to do the hard thing to make our region a better place,” and looks forward to representing all constituents – not just those who vote for her.

Elizabeth Betancourt is on the Aug. 27 ballot alongside Republican challengers Megan Dahle, Joseph Turner, Lane Rickard and Patrick Jones. If one candidate doesn’t win the race outright, the top two vote getters, regardless of political affiliation, will face off in a general special election in November to fill the seat vacated by Brian Dahle when he was elected to the State Senate in June.

Betancourt, who presently works for the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board as chief of the cannabis permitting and compliance unit, said she has focused her professional career on ensuring healthy forests and watersheds.

Betancourt also served on the Western Shasta Resource Conservation District Board for five years and Redding’s Community Development Advisory Committee.

Betancourt and her husband have a small farm in Happy Valley.

“We have experienced the challenges of any small business, including struggling with capital availability, skilled workers, and outlets for our produce,” she said.

“We have also struggled with the state’s regulations, which are structured largely for large conventional agriculture and don’t respect the important role that small farms play in our regional economy as well as the natural world.”

Betancourt added that she has nearly 20 years of experience in forest health and water supply.

“In addition to my connections to the legislature and throughout the California administration, this experience will help me to get more done, in a way that promotes investment in our communities, and not just in our resources,” she said. “I approach policy making with years of experience and the knowledge that a positive impact requires a positive approach. I will bring the voice of experience to the table through my own and my constituents’ voices: it takes all of us to get as much work done as is needed, and looking to create a better future means that all of us must be included in the solution.”

Much of Betancourt’s work in this region has involved collaboration between unconventional partnerships, she said, between tribes, timber companies, recreation advocates, and water suppliers, for example.

“We all care about the same things, at our core: clean air, drinkable water, an economy that allows us to make a real living in these beautiful places, and a landscape and society we can be proud to leave for our children,” she said.

“For all of these things, we need a government that works for people, enhancing their life rather than getting in the way. My experience in working with stakeholders will allow me to negotiate effectively to ensure continued and increased investment in our communities.

Q&A with the candidate

The following are Betancourt’s responses to several interview questions relevant to Siskiyou County residents posed via email:

Q: What is your motivation to run for this office?

A: I want to create opportunities for rural communities and rural people, and ensure that our places have a future that is viable, robust, and as rich as our past. And, I want to provide our region with the dedicated representation it deserves in Sacramento.

Q: What are your three main goals if elected?

A: First, I will represent all constituents, not just one group – I will have the attitude that I serve everyone, not just those who vote for me.

Second, I will focus on the rural issues we face in our region that are different from those in the urban areas of California and will be a strong advocate for those positions. These include:

1. Forest health and investment in our communities to do the work, including innovative product development and energy production;

2. Increased access to and diversity of healthcare options – including mental health care access – throughout our large region; and

3. Education options reflecting the needs of our community, including increased access to higher education.

Third, I will stay connected to our district residents by conducting frequent visits and regular town hall meetings to assure I am obtaining the input necessary to represent everyone.

Q: Do you believe that small communities should embrace the marijuana industry? Do you think encouraging cannabis-based business is a way to build the economies of Siskiyou towns or is it detrimental?

A: It is important that the question of legality of recreational/medicinal cannabis be left to the local governments, as it was voted on through Proposition 68. However, I do see this as an economic issue: rural economies need to adapt to thrive, and the legal cannabis industry – recreational, medicinal, and hemp – is an interesting new opportunity that is helping a number of communities and individuals to grow, economically.

There is also the question of protecting our environment: what I have seen as a part of California’s cannabis regulatory system is that our legal cannabis cultivators are generally doing a very good job at following best practices for protecting our wildlife and water quality. If cannabis cultivation is going to happen no matter what we do, and no matter how much money we spend on law enforcement, it may be that the very best approach is to regulate it, keep an active education program in our schools, and ensure that our core values are protected as this new industry grows.

Q: In what way would you support forest management and reduction of wildfire risk?

A: The state has dedicated at least $200 million annually to forest health over the next few years. This is a lot of money, but it isn’t enough.

We need to develop innovative ways of funding the incredible amount of work we need to do. We need more innovative forest products combined with continued and increased incentives for biomass energy production. We need additional training opportunities and access for in-region forester and burn boss certifications.

We have to find solutions to incentivizing defensible space on all properties, and helping those who either can’t do it themselves or cannot afford to pay for the work to be done. We need to develop building standards that encourage home hardening so that the increased homebuilding activities will result in a more robust community.

There is a lot to do, for people at all levels of expertise and across the entire spectrum of this challenge. But we can do it! We have the people, we have the drive, we simply need the opportunity to move forward.

Q: What is your opinion on removal of the Klamath dams?

The decision to remove the Klamath dams has been made, and was largely based on the bad economics of continuing operation. A contractor for dam removal has been chosen and, while some lawsuits are pending, it is expected that this decision will move forward.

The process has been through economic review, environmental review, has received input from communities and governments at all levels, and has also had legal and court review. Those multiple levels of review, over multiple years, means that the decision is final and it is time to begin planning for taking advantage of what this action means for the communities. This should result in local jobs for dam removal, restoration funds for the Shasta Valley Resource Conservation District, increased tourism investment, and a restored relationship for the Native American Indian Tribes dependent upon the Klamath River and its ecology.

Q: How will you support constituents on both sides of the political spectrum?

A: It takes all of us to get to success. This region doesn’t need a savior who has every answer, but leadership that allows for – and encourages – all of us to be part of the solution.

I will recognize all voices as my constituents: it doesn’t matter what party they are, or even if they’re registered to vote (especially children!). I will serve everyone. To that end, I expect to hold regular forums and town halls to get input on particular issues, and connect with you on the streets of your hometown. Our district is huge: all or part of nine counties! That requires continual effort on my part to ensure that you know what’s going on and that I know how you feel about it.

Q: What is your opinion on the Jefferson movement?

A: As a resident of rural California, I definitely understand the frustration of being ignored. However, that frustration should be vented through building, not tearing down. Leaving with our toys is not a productive action at this point, and is not something for which I would advocate, as it would not get any traction at all at the capitol or beyond.

However, advocating for more resources, more attention, more access, and a greater respect for the important role we – rural communities – play in California’s landscape is absolutely an action I would take, and I would take this action through increased education of urban communities regarding the value of our spaces to their lives: none of us can live without water and clean air, both of which are provided in bulk by AD1!

I would take this action through innovative approaches to economic development and reinvestment of our tax dollars directly into our communities. And I would take this action through bill language that recognizes the increased challenges of distance and economy that we face in rural California, and commensurate compensation for those increased challenges.

Q: In what ways does immigration have an impact on District 1 communities, specifically those in Siskiyou County?

A: Our region has welcomed many immigrant communities in the past, specifically those from southeast Asia and central America. While immigration to our region has slowed, we are no less dependent on these communities for good food, home care services, and agricultural management support, among other sectors.

As part of a family dependent on farming for income, I have seen firsthand what immigration does for agriculture, and know that this labor source is key to ensuring a local, healthy, and affordable food supply for our nation. Different sectors are affected in different ways, but most of us are here because we had at least one family member immigrate to America. This is part of the American Dream, and keeping that alive keeps the energy and dream of our landscape alive.

Q: What is your take on water rights in the northstate, specifically related to water bottling and drink manufacturing companies? Do you believe that giving up control of some of our water would be worth it in terms of economic return?

A: Water is one of our most precious resources, and is the lifeblood of our landscapes as well as of our economy. The long-term gain of a robust tourism economy with flowing streams and active recreation options is a more sustainable way of planning for and managing our resources. Further, ensuring the provision of safe, affordable drinking water through our public systems is considered the highest and best use of water in California.

Our opportunity is in the re-opening of the Delta tunnels project by the current California Administration. Because of this renegotiation, we need someone in the Legislature who understands water issues, water rights, and the state’s Area of Origin protections for rural California. I am that person.

Q: Any other topics you’d like to discuss?

A: Maintaining our homeowners’ insurance in the face of increasing catastrophic wildfire is a very real issue for many of us. The expense of increasing insurance costs combined with the high cost and inadequate coverage of the FAIR plan – a last-resort insurance provider in California – means that, for many, insurance is simply unattainable.

This is not the way business should be done in California. We must take care of our neighbors and protect the fabric of our communities. In my years of working on forest policy, I learned that many of the commercial insurance providers do not consider home improvements/hardening or defensible space efforts. We must ensure that they are working with the best data sources to provide the best service to our communities.

Further, the state should be working to ensure that the data and modeling used by the commercial industry is the best available. We don’t want to get in the way of confidential processes and programming, certainly, but we also want to ensure that those doing business in California are serving the public to the best of their abilities.