6 seek seat in Congress to represent California’s 4th District
Occupation: Parole officer
Occupation: Software company CEO/founder
Party: No Party Preference
Hometown: Elk Grove
Occupation: U.S. Representative
Hometown: El Dorado
Occupation: Business owner
A crowded field of contenders is seeking California’s 4th congressional district seat up for election March 3, with five challengers trying to unseat incumbent Tom McClintock.
American historian Julianne Benzel is campaigning as an originalist to the U.S. Constitution.
Benzel, an educator for more than 20 years, said some of the most important issues facing the district include economic growth, fire and land management, health care, environmental stewardship, parents’ rights, and fighting to keep conservative values.
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“Who we are as a nation is why I’m getting in the fray,” said Benzel, of Rocklin. “I’ve taught millenials for 20 years. They’re my lifeblood and heartbeat and they’re being sorely represented on the national stage. They’ve also been lied to, and they’ve also been indoctrinated.”
Benzel, 48, made national headlines in 2018 when she was placed on administrative leave after talking with her students at Rocklin High School about a planned nationwide school walkout to demand action on gun violence. Benzel reportedly questioned students on whether it was appropriate for the school to support such a protest if it wasn’t willing to support all student-organized protests, posing the question of whether the school district would support a pro-life walkout.
Benzel says she wants to revisit the founding principles of the nation, while also criticizing democratic socialism.
“Bernie (Sanders) and (Alexandria) Ocasio-Cortez, who are very passionate, their ideas, in my estimation, are absolutely insane, but they are real and they are passionate,” said Benzel.
Jamie Byers, a state parole agent from Roseville, is making his first bid for political office.
Byers, 41, said he sees homelessness, illegal immigration, wildfire prevention, and helping the nation’s veterans as among the biggest issues facing the district.
“I’m homegrown,” said Byers. “I’m born in Placer County. I went to Roseville High School. Other than my parole career, I’ve lived here my whole life … I know my area.”
Byers has served in public safety for roughly a decade, including time spent in south Los Angeles, which he said is a major reason he views illegal immigration as a top priority.
“Illegal immigration is number one,” said Byers. “Right now it’s not horrifically impactful on our district, but it’s moving that way. I lived in south Los Angeles … and it’s just a free-for-all.”
On the topic of wildfire, Byers is advocating for increased federal funding, personal responsibility, and “taking control of PG&E, getting them in check because they’ve neglected us.”
Byers also stated that he’s yet to accept any donations or volunteers.
“I want to do it on my own,” he said. “I’m not a politician … I don’t admire any politician. There’s nobody I really look up to, I love Donald Trump, but to me, he’s a businessman in a political position. He’s not a politician, so if I can’t do it on my own, I’m OK with that.”
Brynne Kennedy is the lone Democrat running, and brings a background as a CEO into her first political campaign.
Kennedy, 35, is the founder of Topia, a software company that allows businesses to deploy, manage, and engage employees anywhere in the world, and said she views health care costs, wildfire management, job creation, and bringing more federal tax dollars to the district as paramount issues.
“I decided to run to solve problems for our community,” said Kennedy, of Roseville. “I’ve spent much of the last 15 years working in the private sector, so I come to politics as an outsider and with a different perspective than career politicians.”
Kennedy had her first brush with Washington politics a few years ago while doing policy work on job creation and the economy.
“I was horrified by what I saw in Congress … getting nothing done, pointing fingers, putting party bosses above communities, stopping communication with the people that we work for,” said Kennedy. “And I just felt absolutely called to serve our community and bring a new perspective for everyone who lives in our district.”
If elected, Kennedy said she would focus on bringing more funding to the district and creating a more efficient government. Another key issue Kennedy said she’ll work to tackle is partisanship.
“Our community is tired of Washington partisan politics,” said Kennedy. “I constantly hear from people, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats or non-party preference voters, that people are really fed up with the toxicity, and with the corruption, the special interests, and the partisanship that exists today.”
Robert Lawton is running as a no party preference candidate, after he spent years working on Wall Street before becoming a writer and filmmaker. He moved to Los Angeles before planting roots in the 4th District eight years ago.
“I fell in love with the area and wanted to make it my home,” he said. “I did not move here to be a politician,” he said.
Lawton, 52, ran for the same seat in the last election cycle but did not make it past the primary election as he received 2% of the vote. The reason he is running, he said, is because he believes he’s the only other progressive candidate in the race.
In a district that encompasses much of the Sierra Nevada from Truckee to the Sequoia National Forest, environmental issues are at the forefront of his campaign.
“Without saving the environment, nothing else really matters,” he said. “I fully support and will fight for the Green New Deal.”
Paying more attention to the environment will help solve other issues, including wildfire risk and drought, he said.
So far Lawton has been 100% self-funded and only spent the bare minimum in order to get on the ballot.
“I don’t think I need to spend money,” he said.
Tom McClintock won his seat in 2008 and has served every term since. In the 2018 election, he won 55% of the vote against Democratic candidate Jessica Morse, in a district that President Donald Trump won by a 14.5% margin in 2016.
McClintock has long been an advocate for lower taxes and minimal government regulations, in what he sees as efforts to boost the economy. In 2018 he was ranked No. 1 as a “taxpayer’s friend” from the National Taxpayers Union. The award is given to members of Congress “who set a high standard for protecting taxpayers’ interests,” according to the organization’s website.
According to McClintock, tax cuts are producing bigger paychecks, better jobs, and “long overdue bonuses and raises for American families.”
“I want to continue that progress,” he said.
McClintock holds a firm stance against illegal immigration, and opposes proposals to decriminalize illegal immigration or cease deportations.
“Nations that cannot enforce their borders simply aren’t around very long,” he said. “This election will decide if that is to be America’s fate.”
As a member of the Natural Resources Committee, he said creating an abundant supply of water and power, as well as properly managing public lands, are some of his priorities.
“Healthy and well-managed forests are essential to the prosperity and quality of life of our region,” said McClintock.
Jacob Thomas is a 24-year-old Republican from El Dorado who owns a construction and landscaping business.
He has been volunteering for a search and rescue team in El Dorado since 2014, receiving searcher of the year in 2016.
As a frequent visitor of national and state parks, Thomas said he would like to make the district’s public lands more accessible.
“A lot of the environmental protections that are happening right now are what’s putting a limitation on the enjoyment of these lands,” he said. “I understand that that’s really important, but I’d like to be able to take care of these areas without restricting them,” he said.
With a growing call nationwide for stricter gun control legislation, Thomas said he will focus to make sure the Second Amendment is protected.
“Living in California, that’s something that has been chipped away at,” he said.
As the owner of a construction company he says he feels strongly about creating affordable housing for residents in the district.
“The high cost of housing is being driven by the high cost of construction in California,” he said. “A simple project can cost thousands, and it makes it really difficult to own a home.”
As the youngest candidate in the race, he said one of the biggest things he’d like to focus on is youth representation in Congress.
“Our youth doesn’t get involved typically, and they feel like it’s not their problem,” he said.
Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at 530-550-2652 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at email@example.com or 530-550-2643.
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