Not your average Democrat

Libertarian-leaning congressional candidate Jim Reed talks water

Jim Reed (left) speaks with constituent Robert Eberhardt during the candidate’s recent forum on water.

Jim Reed (left) speaks with constituent Robert Eberhardt during the candidate’s recent forum on water.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Comparing the candidates:
Jim Reed's campaign website is at; Doug LaMalfa's is at

As Jim Reed drives up and down the northern Sacramento Valley campaigning for the District 1 seat in Congress, he encounters signs with a familiar message:


It’s déjà vu from 2012, when Reed first challenged Doug LaMalfa, a Republican rice farmer from Richvale who’d served as a state senator and assemblyman. LaMalfa won that election, then beat Democratic challenger Heidi Hall in 2014, and now has a rematch with Reed, a tax- and estate-planning attorney who’s moved from Redding to Red Bluff.

LaMalfa seemingly pulled his old signs out of storage, or at least dusted off the same design, because Reed recognizes the slogan. For the Democratic challenger, the incumbent’s implicit commitment to water rights is “a platitude” because he sees no tangible impact from LaMalfa’s leadership.

Traveling the district—California’s northeasternmost—Reed has heard from an array of citizens worried about our local share of the statewide water supply. The North State serves as a primary source for Central California and Southern California.

The level of concern struck Reed as so pressing that he decided to hold an informational forum last Thursday (Sept. 15) at the Chico Women’s Club instead of a standard meet-and-greet fundraiser with a stump speech. The event drew 30 attendees, but Reed deemed it enough of a success to inform his fellow presenters—wildlife biologist Lindsay Wood, habitat preservationist Lucas RossMerz and environmental activist Dave Garcia—that he intended to organize another water forum in Grass Valley.

Reed’s overarching message to the audience of water-watchers: “We have to solve our problems with a multifaceted approach.”

That approach in his estimation includes Sites Reservoir, a multibillion-dollar project slated for west of Maxwell that would store up to 1.8 million acre-feet (586.5 billion gallons) of water, though yielding roughly one-third of that amount for consumption. Planning has gotten expedited in order for Sites to contend for $2.7 billion in Proposition 1 funding.

Reed told forum attendees that “it’s got to be the start, not the end” of water measures and that, as a GOP-backed idea, Sites represents an olive branch to Republicans, something that is necessary to move forward on other matters requiring bipartisan support.

He acknowledged afterward, “The room was against me on that one.”

Reed is accustomed to such sentiment. He holds certain views that run contrary to dyed-in-the-wool Democratic loyalists—in fact, he says on his website that “I lean Libertarian on most issues” and the website banner describes him as “the moderate Democrat who can reach across the aisle to help end gridlock in Washington.”

Reed supports gun ownership rights, though also some limited gun control measures. He supports the death penalty, though with safeguards against wrongful convictions. He supports regulating businesses, though only large corporations.

In referencing Sites during the forum, he commented that “maybe compromise is needed to get things done.”

He feels his position on the political spectrum—closer to center than left wing in a conservative district, where there’s a 10 percent difference in registration between Republicans and Democrats with 30 percent independents—plus the polarizing nature of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and the low approval rating of gridlocked Congress make his campaign a viable effort.

“If just 5 percent of the Republicans voted for me, we’d have an even race,” Reed said, “and I know I’m going to win with that 30 percent who are not affiliated with either Republicans or Democrats.”

Water is a bipartisan issue. Even though Reed sprinkled political statements into his presentation and answers to attendees’ questions, the forum focused on information-sharing.

Wood, who serves on the Butte County Forest Advisory Committee, discussed adverse conditions faced by species in local watersheds. RossMerz, executive director of the Sacramento River Preservation Trust, explained the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which cedes governance for water pumping to local agencies. Garcia, active with the Sierra Club and a spokesman for Frack-Free Butte County, talked about the hazard posed by trains carrying crude oil; a derailment in the Feather River Canyon likely would contaminate Lake Oroville and thus a substantial part of California’s drinking and agricultural supplies.

“Virtually the whole North State is committed to making sure we protect our water, hopefully both quality and quantity,” Reed told the CN&R following the 2 1/2 hour session. “I think there is an outrage up north that our high-quality water ends up in Southern California, and we’re doing the conservation up here….

“We need solutions. This is a long-term problem. Global warming is a real thing, it’s only going to get worse, and this is the time we’ve got to tackle it. That’s why I thought today would be the right time to have this conversation.”