By Duncan A. Kennedy
On April 29th, as part of a countywide tour held by the Sierra County Democrats in conjunction with Dr. Kermit Jones’s congressional campaign, your correspondent was able to interview Belle Starr Sandwith, Democratic challenger for Assembly District 1. The following is a synopsis of the answers given to questions posed to the candidate:
Tell us a bit about yourself – what’s your life story?
Sandwith was born in Kansas but moved to California early in life when her father found employment in Napa County. Soon afterward, her mother began working for CalTrans in Nevada County, so she grew up in the Donner Pass area. Sandwith attended College of the Redwoods as a basketball player, then transferred to the University of Nevada, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Public Health Administration. After that, she worked as a traveling chef for NASCAR racers before returning to her Lost Sierra roots and moving to Sierra Brooks.
What inspired you to run for Assembly?
After the events of January 6th, 2021, Sandwith was “horrified”; this, coupled with a pandemic response that she found underwhelming and two bad wildfire seasons that left her “tired of being burned out of the Sierras,” left her yearning for change. Eventually, congressional candidate Max Steiner (challenging Doug LaMalfa in CA-01) recruited her as a potential candidate.
After the principal Democratic candidate in the AD-01 race dropped out, Sandwith decided to file election papers, and the rest is history.
What are your core campaign issues?
Sandwith hopes to obtain rural broadband funding to eventually establish a better emergency comms system for wildfire season and the economic benefits it would bring. She also hopes to acquire better funding for community colleges in the area, such as Shasta, Siskiyou, Lassen, Sierra, and Feather River.
Tell us your stances on each of these issues:
Inflation: Sandwith believes that inflation results from corporate greed and unfettered capitalism, saying that “nobody wants regulation until they want regulation .”She thinks higher corporate taxes could solve this.
Drought and Ag.: “Extreme weather is here, and we have to learn to live with it,” says Sandwith on this issue. She adds that forest management is an integral part of how we need to adapt since “without healthy forests to catch and store water, there is none for agriculture.”
Climate Change: Sandwith believes that, whether or not climate change is fully anthropogenic, “it’s real, and we need to do something.”
Renewable Energy: “Yes” was Sandwith’s first response when asked; she says that solar and wind energy needs to become more widespread, and biomass cogeneration needs to be expanded and subsidized to deal with forest overgrowth. Additionally, Sandwith believes rooftop solar taxes are discouraging the installation of energy-saving solar panels and they should be eliminated.
Healthcare: Sandwith is a believer in a single-payer universal healthcare system, where everyone – doctor and patient alike – are participants and where mental and physical healthcare are bundled together instead of marketed separately. Her quote on the topic is “private healthcare is killing us!”
Tax Rates: “Everyone always thinks taxes are too high,” says Sandwith on this issue. She believes, however, that without taxes the government cannot provide essential services, pointing to the example of Verdi residents moving just across the border and saying, “Nevada doesn’t provide anything, whereas California provides fantastic government services .”Sandwith does acknowledge that large portions of tax revenues are misspent and hopes to address this if elected.
How long have you been involved with the Lost Sierra?
“Always. I grew up on Donner Summit; can’t get much more rural than that,” Sandwith said regarding her background.
How do you intend to represent AD1’s interests in Sacramento?
Sandwith hopes to increase funding for proper forest management and increased firefighter pay to prevent tragedies like last year’s Dixie Fire. She will also continue to advocate for rural broadband construction, but fire is her main issue.
Do you have any ideas for how this area can recover from wildfires?
“I will listen to people smarter than myself,” says Sandwith regarding specific policy actions and solutions. She cited Elizabeth Bettancourt as an information and policy advice resource whose help she hopes to recruit.
Any political pet projects you’d like to accomplish?
Sandwith’s “political fever dream” is to improve mental healthcare services across the state, especially for troubled youth and the homeless. She cites the closure of state mental hospitals as one of the principal causes of the current homelessness crisis. She hopes that building back to a similar standard of mental healthcare will dull one of the most significant factors behind that issue.
What routes can be taken to diversify our local economy, and what can you do to help?
“This district needs change,” says Sandwith, citing current GDP figures and tourism numbers. She believes that forest health work will be invaluable in helping to create new opportunities locally and so would improving funding of education and job training programs.
Would you agree to attend candidate forums and debates locally?
Assembly District One consists of all or parts of Alpine, Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Nevada, Sierra, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta, Modoc and Siskiyou counties. The statewide blanket primary election will be on June 7th, 2022.