Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle to challenge Newsom for California governor

Sen. Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) on the Senate floor at the state Capitol in 2019.
State Sen. Brian Dahle (R-Bieber), shown at the state Capitol in 2019, says he will challenge Gov. Gavin Newsom in this year’s election.
(Robert Gourley/Los Angeles Times)

Northern California state Sen. Brian Dahle on Tuesday announced his bid for California governor, the first Republican legislator to challenge Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2022 bid for reelection.

Dahle faces a monumental task in a state where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by an almost 2-to-1 margin and no GOP candidate has won a statewide election in more than 15 years. Newsom also has $25 million in campaign funds stashed away and remains popular among most Californians, having handily beat back a Republican-led campaign to recall him from office in September, while Dahle has less than $200,000 in his legislative accounts.

At a news conference in Redding announcing his candidacy, Dahle expressed confidence that California voters are yearning for political change. He blamed California’s ongoing struggles with crime, homelessness and a high cost of living on policies embraced by Newsom and the Democratic leadership at the state Capitol.


“I am not willing to leave this broken California to my children, your children and our grandchildren,” Dahle said. “I cannot stand aside and watch corrupt one-party rule continue to poison the future of our state.”

Dahle referred to the governor as a “dictator” and derided him as a “wine salesman,” a reference to the wine store Newsom opened in San Francisco as a young man and later expanded into a business that included wineries, restaurants, bars and hotels. He criticized Newsom for requiring schoolchildren to wear masks in classrooms as photographs surfaced showing him momentarily maskless during an NFL playoff game between the Rams and the San Francisco 49ers.

Dahle’s background and politics offer a stark contrast to Newsom, the son of an appellate court judge who had connections to the highest echelons of the Democratic establishment in liberal San Francisco. There, Newsom rose to national political prominence during his two terms as mayor. He then served eight years as lieutenant governor before being elected governor in 2018.

Dahle represents the northeastern corner of California, a far-reaching legislative district in one of the most conservative and rural areas of the state. A rancher and owner of the Big Valley Seed Co., Dahle lives in Bieber, a tiny town 250 miles north of Sacramento with a population of about 260.

Dahle served on the Lassen County Board of Supervisors before he was elected to the state Assembly in 2012, where he went on to become the Republican leader. He was elected to the state Senate in 2019, beating fellow Republican Assemblyman Kevin Kiley of Rocklin. During the campaign, Dahle touted his support for securing the U.S.-Mexico border and opposition to so-called sanctuary city policies that prevent local law enforcement officers from working or cooperating with federal immigration agents.

Dahle, whose district has been hard hit by wildfires, has been a harsh critic of California’s forest management policies that he said have created deadly tinderboxes across the state. He has also criticized the Newsom administration’s decision to close the California Correctional Center in Susanville, a prison in his district that employs more than 1,000 people and has been home to the state’s inmate firefighting training camps.


Dahle also was among a dozen state lawmakers who declined to disclose whether he had been vaccinated for COVID-19 in July, when The Times asked all legislators if they had received the vaccine. He also has criticized pandemic-related restrictions imposed by the Newsom administration as government overreach.

Dan Newman, Newsom’s political consultant, dismissed Dahle as a pro-Trump Republican who will “try to stop the progress the governor is making steering California through the pandemic.”

“The governor will stay focused on solutions — leading on COVID, schools, healthcare, housing and climate — all with historic budget surpluses. And just like last year, voters will have a clear choice,” Newman said.

No prominent Republican has officially challenged Newsom’s bid for a second term as governor even as the June primary election fast approaches.

Conservative talk show host Larry Elder, who topped the field of candidates trying to replace Newsom in September’s failed recall, announced in January that he would not run.

Other top Republicans who tried unsuccessfully to unseat Newsom in the recall, including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and 2018 gubernatorial candidate John Cox, also said they would consider challenging Newsom again. Neither has launched an active campaign, although Republican sources have said that Faulconer has been querying GOP campaign donors about their possible support.


During the recall, Newsom portrayed the campaign to oust him as a “life and death” battle against “Trumpism” and far-right anti-vaccination activists. Among the more than 8.4 million Californians who voted in September, 61.9% favored keeping Newsom in office and 38.1% supported ousting him.