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North State elections: Democratic House candidate Max Steiner

Max Steiner, a moderate Democrat, is challenging Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa in the November election. Photo courtesy of Max Steiner.
Max Steiner, a moderate Democrat, is challenging Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa in the November election. Photo courtesy of Max Steiner.

Democratic House candidate Max Steiner is facing off against Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa on the November ballot.

LaMalfa has represented California’s 1st Congressional District since 2013.

Steiner lives in Chico with his wife and says he was a defense analyst at the RAND Corporation before taking leave at the tail end of his campaign. He’s also an Iraq War veteran and U.S. Army reservist.

Steiner recently spoke with NSPR’s Andre Byik about reproductive rights, forest management in the North State and California’s ongoing drought.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On federal abortion protections

The big federal outcome that I want to see is codifying Roe v. Wade into law. That was previously established by the Supreme Court, but there was no federal law. You could make it a federal law, saying that all states have to respect a woman’s right to choose until viability, which is generally about 22 weeks.

This is a big point of contrast between me and my opponent. Doug LaMalfa was a cosponsor of a law that would outlaw an abortion after day zero, that would outlaw the “Plan B” pill. It would outlaw an abortion of one day after, becausehe wants to codify fertilization is life. And therefore, anyone who took “Plan B,” or emergency contraceptives, would be committing murder. This is obviously a big contrast. And it’s obviously in the news because of the recent Supreme Court decision that ended that court protection.

So, without changing the Supreme Court, you can either change the law, which is what I recommend, or you can just accept that we’re going to have this very different, state-level abortion decisions. I come down on make Roe v. Wade law, and my opponent comes down on the far extreme, which is not only overthrow Roe v. Wade, but also codify into federal law that abortion should be illegal.

On forest management and wildfire threats in the North State

What is the solution to wildfire? Well, it’s not necessarily just spending money on fighting fires. It’s about better forest management. And we’ve really seen the pendulum swing from clear-cutting, which was kind of the case until early 1980, to no cutting, which has been the effect of very — I would say — overly rigorous environmental regulations and idealistic but ultimately misplaced guidelines that killed the timber industry.

What we need is sustainable forest management, and that’s something that we are just not seeing. And then with the additional stress of climate change — which, yes, is real but much less easy to fix — you’re going to get these massive megafires. What used to be a big fire in a year was 20,000-30,000 acres. Now, the Dixie Fireburned 1 million acres.

So, that’s kind of setting the stage. The big push that we need to do is to facilitate the regrowth of a timber industry here in the North State to reduce trees; to kind of thin our forest out. Then we can reintroduce prescribed fire once you thin and manage forests correctly. And once you get those two things in line, then you really drive down the risk of a higher canopy blaze. Fire in a forest is not necessarily bad. Fire in an overcrowded, unmaintained forest is potentially catastrophic, and that’s what we want to be preventing.

On fire suppression strategies

This is something that Doug LaMalfa and I agree on. There’s a need to return to this sense of “aggressive initial attack.” That’s the vocabulary that firefighters use. And that’s this idea of aggressive initial attack versus this idea of managed fire. So, managed fire does not work very well; has not worked in the North State, because of what I mentioned earlier, which is poorly maintained and just overcrowded forest. Managed fire is too dangerous right now to implement as a forest management strategy. So, I agree here.

The difference is, how do you make that effective, right? Doug’s approach to managed fire has been to yell at the Forest Service whenever he gets a chance, which ultimately just makes them defensive and doesn’t lead to much actual, positive change. We need to engage. We need to point to the science. We need to point out to the Forest Service — the Congress is supposed to be providing this kind of oversight —and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t the time to do it.’ We need to get this thing first. And then prescribed fire — in a prescribed-fire window — makes a lot of sense, too. If the humidity count is high enough. There’s enough ground moisture. This kind of thing. You can use it correctly. You’re staffed to prevent it from getting out of control.

I will note no fire is completely safe. We hadtwo fires in New Mexico escape earlier this year, and those were prescribed fires. And they were implemented, and the weather changed, and they blew out of control. You know, this is the point; that if you put fire into an ecosystem that is not ready for fire, you’re risking lives and property. And this is the same whether it’s prescribed fire or managed fire. It’s the forest that’s more important.

On responding to California’s ongoing drought

The big answer is supply. Supply, supply, supply. How do you increase the supply of water that we can hold when we get precipitation events? And the answer to that is dams. Most water policy — when people talk about water rights — that’s all state. Most of your demand side is state. Either reducing water use in cities, reducing water use for farmers, balancing that out; everything on the demand side is basically a state problem. But feds, we have a lot of money. And there are a lot of federal dams. And that’s because the federal government, basically, maintains levees through the Army Corps of Engineers, and builds dams through the Bureau of Reclamation. And I want to see that increase.

There are a lot of people in the left that are coming from a position of, 'Hey, the environment is more important.' And, you know, I don’t. I mean, the environment is very important. But with climate change, we are going to have more catastrophic rainfall events. And whenever you have massive quantities of rain, you have flooding risk.

So, with massive quantities of snow, you just have a good year. That’s great. Everyone wants more snow. If you get a lot of rain in a short amount of time, the Sacramento Valley will flood. And it used to flood constantly. And people say, Well, flooding is a natural part of the environment. Well, sure. But 40 million people live in California now. And we’ve got a major metropolitan area — Sacramento which is thesecond most likely metropolitan area to flood in the United States after New Orleans.

And we live in a built environment. We modify our environment. And I come down hard on the side of, we will build the environment to suit our needs in a way that is environmentally appropriate. But we are not dictating our lives by the environment. So,building Sites Reservoir, big win. Raising Shasta Dam I think is an easy yes, but at least something that should be studied. And there are other smaller reservoirs throughout the state. I will say all the easy reservoirs, they’ve already been built. There’s a reason they were built first. So, every additional dam you build will be more expensive.

Editor’s note: NSPR has requested an interview with Rep. LaMalfa. His chief of staff, Mark Spannagel, referred NSPR’s request for an interview to LaMalfa’s campaign. LaMalfa’s campaign has not returned messages seeking an interview.

A graduate of California State University, Chico, Andre Byik is an award-winning journalist who has reported in Northern California since 2012. He joined North State Public Radio in 2020, following roles at the Chico Enterprise-Record and Chico News & Review.