By Duncan A. Kennedy
SIERRAVILLE – The Mountain Messenger recently interviewed Kelly Tanner (R-Round Mountain), a primary challenger to Assemblywoman Megan Dahle (R-Bieber) who currently represents the residents of Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, and Siskiyou counties, and portions of Butte and Placer counties in the California Assembly. A synopsis of what we learned during the interview appears below.
Tell us a little about yourself – what’s your life story?
Tanner was born and raised in Southern California but has been residing on land her grandfather previously owned and lived on for decades near Round Mountain in Shasta County for the past six years. She has a background in Disaster and Emergency Management and wrote her thesis on the 1992 Fountain Fire, a blaze responsible for destroying much of Round Mountain. Tanner worked for the Salt Lake County Office of Emergency Management before moving back to California. She recently rose to local prominence for her role in analyzing and defeating a proposed wind farm development behind Round Mountain because the project would have massively increased the town’s fire risk.
What inspired you to run for State Assembly?
Fighting against the Fountain Wind Farm project helped Tanner realize rural communities like hers generally aren’t very well listened to by the powers that be, especially regarding issues such as fire policy. She opted to run for Assembly instead of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors (like some in her community had suggested initially) because the state government, not local entities, sets fire and energy policy. Tanner has since earned endorsements from the Republican Central Committees of Modoc, Amador, Placer, El Dorado, and Nevada Counties.
What are your campaign’s core policy issues?
Tanner focuses on fire management policy, economics, public safety issues, the homelessness crisis, and mental health care.
Can you give us your views on the following issues?
Inflation: Tanner believes government spending and printing of excess currency are the leading causes of inflation. However, she knows most of the many variables involved in solving the problem would be out of her control as a state legislator.
Law and order: “Criminals shouldn’t be released early,” says Tanner, who advocates for the prosecution as felonies of crimes rendered misdemeanors by Proposition 47 (2014), which she believes was a mistake. She also says violent crime is becoming a more significant issue in rural areas, the last to feel the effects of crime epidemics but have the least capacity to buffer against these issues.
Drought and agriculture: In Tanner’s opinion, California’s Mediterranean climate cyclically brings droughts, and as such, the state’s climate has constantly been changing. She believes we need to prepare for these events through mitigation and adaptation measures such as surface water storage infrastructure and better management of our watersheds.
Immigration: Tanner is against sanctuary cities and states and opposes illegal immigration while supporting legal immigration. “My sister-in-law is a Brazilian immigrant,” says Tanner, saying that legal immigrants see unpunished illegal immigration as “cutting in line and a slap to the face.”However, she thinks more legal immigration should be encouraged and accepted by Americans.
Forest management: “Bad forest management has been going on in California since the Gold Rush, so we have a large backlog of issues to fix,” Tanner says. She thinks thinning and selective logging are critical to reducing fire risk and rebuilding rural economies, as is developing biomass energy, conducting controlled burns, and fixing utility infrastructure. Moreover, Tanner believes we need to slash red tape such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) since its regulation tied up a fuel reduction project outside of Berry Creek and stalled a project which could have saved the town from the 2020 North Complex Fire disaster that claimed 15 lives.
Renewable and alternative energy: “Renewable energy is good, but it’s also context-sensitive,” says Tanner, citing the wind farm project she fought as an example of a good project in the wrong place. Tanner notes this district’s timber resources make biomass a logical choice for green energy production locally as an example of this context-sensitivity. She also believes that grid infrastructure needs modernization and that we should consider nuclear energy as a more widely-adopted power source than it currently is.
Taxes: Tanner believes taxes should overall be lower. The gas tax, in particular, is making Californians’ lives more complicated, and she says it should be suspended if not wholly repealed.
Second Amendment: “I am pro-Second Amendment,” says Tanner, adding that growing up in Los Angeles initially made her feel like she didn’t need to own a firearm. This changed when she moved to Round Mountain and discovered that law enforcement response was between 45 minutes and an hour away. She also cited an incident where one of her neighbors was involved in an armed standoff with six cartel members until law enforcement backup arrived to rescue him as a formative experience for her views on firearm ownership.
Rural broadband: Tanner’s undergraduate thesis at Brigham Young University was written on the “digital divide” in the context of politics and media, which led her to hear about rural broadband initiatives as early as 2004. She says we need that kind of connectivity in rural areas, but implementation may may not be nearly so straightforward. Tanner notes that Starlink’s technology has promise and may offer an alternative to building expensive physical on-the-ground connections.
How long have you been involved with this district?
Tanner has lived in Round Mountain for the past six years on a ranch owned by her family since 1930. She has been heavily involved in her community due to the Fountain Wind Farm issue for two years now.
How do you intend to represent us in Sacramento?
“I will be a loud and hard-to-ignore voice on behalf of this district, the largest and least well-represented in California,” says Tanner. She can at least promise she will show up to events and be involved in communities across her district even when not campaigning for re-election, which some have said is more than the current district representative manages.
How can this area recover from fires, and how can you help?
“This is a hard question for me to answer because it has been 30 years since my town burned, and we never did recover”. Her stance is that the biggest hurdle is fuel reduction to prevent future tragedies and eliminate fire risks so people will feel safe rebuilding their lives instead of fearing losing everything again in a puff of smoke.
Are there any political pet issues that are important to you and that you want to pursue?
Tanner’s political pet issues are mental health and disability issues. The latter is incredibly personal to her, as her brother is disabled himself; she notes that these two groups are some of the most vulnerable in wildfire disasters since they often have a more challenging time escaping to safety independently. She wants to eliminate that problem in any way she can.
Finally, would you return to the area for a candidate forum?
“I would love to,” Tanner said before adding she has already participated in other candidate forums alongside Democratic competitor Belle Starr Sandwith.