(CN) — Voters in part of Shasta County, California, head to the polls Tuesday to vote in a fractious local recall election showdown between a decades-long Republican public servant and a group of far-right voters incensed at the county’s response to the pandemic.
Leonard Moty, who spent a career in law enforcement before he was elected supervisor of Shasta County’s District Two, faced a concerted campaign spearheaded by two of his fellow county supervisors from neighboring districts. Supervisors Patrick Henry Jones and Les Baugh used Recall Shasta to circulate petitions for recall elections on Moty and two other supervisors — all three of whom are conservative Republicans.
They only collected enough signatures to get Moty’s recall on the ballot, but militia members, Second Amendment groups and opponents of Covid-19 mandates are now at the forefront of the effort to oust Moty.
“Obviously we’re a little apprehensive. Any time during an election, you feel that way,” Moty told Courthouse News. “[But] we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people who are supporting me and want to keep civility in our county, so that’s always a positive thing.”
Conversely, Jones voiced confidence that Moty would be removed from office. He called Moty a liberal who is "not responding to the constituents in District Two." Jones said the petition to initiate Moty's recall garnered 6,000 signatures and noted that as of Monday evening, over 6,000 ballots had been returned. He said that if a sizable chunk of those who signed the petition vote, the margin of victory could be decisively in his favor.
The recall effort against Moty has mobilized various groups on Shasta County’s far right. These groups include State of Jefferson advocates, who seek to form their own state by separating from California, as well as Red White and Blueprint, a far-right docuseries.
“A lot of groups started coming together [during the pandemic], finding like company and trying to become disruptive,” Moty said. He said the recall effort was spurred by “alt-right extremists who are unhappy with California, with the Democratic governor and Legislature” and are seeking to expand their influence in California by building up from the local level. Groups affiliated with the recall have discussed targeting the local district attorney, sheriff, school board and city council members for removal from office.
Jones rejected the characterization of recall supporters as extremists, arguing that the recall opponents attempted to "mislead the public" by highlighting "one or two outspoken people in the county that are not part of Shasta Recall that have said some fairly disturbing things." Jones contends that the recall effort was driven by "mothers and grandmothers," estimating that women comprise 70% of Shasta Recall.
The opposition to Moty hinges on his perceived lack of willingness to fight against Covid-19 policies and mandates coming out of Sacramento, such as Governor Gavin Newsom’s vaccine mandate for students, school and business closures and mask requirements.
Moty noted that Shasta County never implemented any guidelines stricter than that of the state and often “didn’t strictly enforce” the guidelines to fine people or businesses that violated state guidelines, instead relying on education and information to encourage voluntary compliance.
“Here we are, a Republican county so to speak, and people are trying to recall three Republican supervisors,” Moty said. “I think that speaks to the extremism of their viewpoints."
In a year that would ordinarily be a respite from the rancor of national politics and high-stakes elections, the political firestorm engulfing the idyllic but deeply conservative northern California county is taking a toll on the nonpartisan election officials. Shasta County Clerk and Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen said she and her staff face an environment where mistrust of government runs so high that baseless voter fraud allegations circulate before a single vote is counted.