In the high plains of northeastern California, a family that farms together, politicks together.
Bieber grain farmers Brian and Megan Dahle have long been involved in local affairs, with Brian spending 16 years on the Lassen County Board of Supervisors and Megan starting out on the Big Valley Joint Unified School District board.
After Brian was first elected to the state Assembly in 2012, he was in his fourth term when then-state Sen. Ted Gaines, a fellow Republican, resigned in 2019, after his election to the California Board of Equalization.
When Brian won the seat in a special election, Megan sought his old seat as a Republican and won. They’re both up for re-election in the fall.
“I was actually running for supervisor when I met Megan in ’95,” Brian said. “After we got married, Megan and I were both involved in a lot in our community. Our kids are in FFA, we go to auctions, we’re involved in sports.”
“When Brian decided to run for Senate, we had discussions,” Megan said. “It’s very important to have counterparts in the Assembly and Senate … You can get a bill through the Assembly and then it could get changed.”
Brian Dahle’s grandfather was a veteran who drew a homestead in Tulelake in 1930 and planted wheat and potatoes. He bought the family’s current farm in 1942, and the family raises cereal grains organically.
Megan was managing a fishing lodge in Fall River Mills when the couple met – the second time.
“She’s 10 years younger,” said Brian, 54. “So when I was 21 she was 11. We lost track, and then I found her when she was 19 at the fishing lodge in Fall River. The rest was history.”
The couple has been married for 21 years and has three children – Chase, a student at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo; Reagan; and 10-year-old Roslyn. Reagan was vice president of California FFA in the 2019-20 school year.
Megan owned a nursery and served on the school board while Brian was a county supervisor, but she gave up both and devoted her time to the farm when her husband won the 1st Assembly District seat in 2012. He was the Assembly minority leader in 2017-18.
When Gaines vacated his 1st Senate District seat, Dahle ran and assumed office on June 12, 2019. Megan was elected in November.
“People approached me … and I said, ‘You’re crazy, I’m never doing that,’” Megan said. She considered waiting until both of her older children had graduated before taking on community commitments, but “we had to make a decision” when the Assembly seat opened, she said.
“I’m really passionate about rural education and the challenges we face in ag,” she said. “It’s vital to have a voice in our communities.”
Also, it can be hard on a marriage to be apart for long periods of time, and the trip from Bieber to Sacramento isn’t a quick commute, she said. But they can now take the trip together.
The Dahles aren’t the first married couple to serve together in the California Legislature. That honor went to then-Sen. George Runner and then-Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, who served concurrently from 2004-08.
But what makes the Dahles unique is their rural roots. In an effort to educate urban lawmakers about agriculture and rural issues, the family has had over 100 legislators to their ranch.
“That’s been really beneficial when we go and have a bill or we’re talking about broadband internet funding, or … when we talk about ag,” Megan said.
“California is so diverse that many (legislators) haven’t been north of Sacramento,” Brian said. “When we bring them out to our farm and the closest Walmart is 75 miles away, they can’t believe we got elected. When we show them our way of life, then when they get back to Sacramento they can picture it.
“If you’re from San Diego or Los Angeles or San Francisco, you don’t understand what it’s like to be on a farm in this part of the state,” he said.
The Dahles haven’t cosponsored any bills yet, as Megan was only in the Assembly for a few months before the Legislature went home amid the coronavirus pandemic. As the legislative session ramps up again, the two will have the ability to jockey bills through both houses, they said.
“Megan’s expertise on school issues is not mine,” Brian said. “She understands more of the regulatory part just because she does all the compliance.”
Do the two ever disagree about legislation?
“We have different passions, and being male and female the way we look at things is different,” Megan said. “I’m definitely the moderator a lot. Prior to me being elected, I had a lot of men around me, and we laugh because people knew who was running the show.”
Life in the minority
The Dahles have had to get used to being in a very small minority – in terms of party affiliation as well as way of life. Democrats currently enjoy a 29-10 majority in the Senate and a 61-18 advantage with one independent in the Assembly.
“There have been many times when I’ve thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’” Brian said. But the upside is being able to go to bat for people in the district, he said.
“We help people every single day,” Brian said. “I have amazing people working for me. Both of us do. It makes a big difference to read letters from people who say thank you.”
One woman thanked Brian for helping her wade through the state health care bureaucracy and get dentures, he said.
“When you’re down and frustrated because of the partisanship, to read some of those letters picks you right back up,” he said.
“As a parent, you want to look at your kids and say you did something,” said Megan, adding the children are interested in taking over the ranch. “For me I just have to keep reminding myself that my voice needs to be there.”