Round two

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Audrey Denney, pictured at Chico City Plaza in September, says the 2020 election feels more pressing.

“I always knew I’d give it two goes.”

That’s what Audrey Denney told the CN&R by phone earlier this week—on the day she announced she’s running for Congress, once again seeking the District 1 seat held by Rep. Doug LaMalfa.

Denney said as much when she was profiled in this newspaper a few months before the general election (see “House hunter,” Cover story, Sept. 20, 2018), but it wasn’t until Monday (Feb. 25) that she made it official. Her announcement via a video posted on social media largely focuses on the effects of the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive in state history.

“It’s changed everything about this county and our lives, but also strengthened me in my resolve in a way that I didn’t know was possible until it happened,” she told this reporter.

During the first few post-fire months, Denney spent time in Washington, D.C., lobbying for disaster response and climate action. There, in December, she attended 17 meetings on Capitol Hill, including one with longtime Congressman John Garamendi, who represents District 3, which encompasses several North State counties, including part of Glenn County.

It took place in early December, as politicians, including President Trump, attended a service in the rotunda for the late George H.W. Bush. Garamendi called in his entire staff, Denney recalled, and asked how he could help. Denney led the meeting after the congressman left early to attend the service.

Afterward, feeling “wired” for that kind of work, she turned to her campaign manager, Chicoan Brian Solecki, with her immediate thoughts: “Hey, I think we’re going to be good at this.”

For Solecki’s part, looking back to their time at the Capitol, when Denney sat down with some of the most powerful politicians in the country, the experience cemented his confidence in her abilities.

“The overall takeaway was that Audrey was meant to do this, she was created to do this. … She’s just so gifted.”

Denney already had been volunteering on relief efforts locally, starting immediately after the wildfire. Her work on that front lasted for months and included helping establish a long-term recovery group. Her role with that apolitical panel wound down last month when she filed her candidacy papers.

Though it’s early, Denney said the 2020 election feels more pressing, especially due to the resulting local issues and what’s been happening and not happening in Butte County. Among her criticism of the incumbent is that he didn’t stand up to President Trump, who charged that the state hadn’t done enough to manage forests and threatened to pull federal disaster funding.

“It was inexcusable,” she said. “He should have been fighting with every single word, every single statement, every single action to show the administration that we have to have that money to recover.”

As for the upcoming campaign, Denney said things will kick off in earnest in the next few months. She and her team have a lot of work ahead. First, she said, there’s the post-election analysis that was deferred due to the fire—which hit two days later. In that November race, in which she challenged the three-term incumbent from Richvale, Denney lost 45.1 percent to 54.9 percent. (In Butte County, she beat him by about eight points.)

Then, of course, she’ll be fundraising over the next 20 months.

Denney said her campaign coffers were completely depleted in 2018. Moreover, she spent her life savings on the campaign and also her living expenses as she worked full time on the effort. “I don’t have two dimes to rub together,” she said.

Now back at work and trying to save to enough money to be able to take next year off, Denney said she has a new outlook on asking her supporters for financial backing.

“I really feel like when I’m asking people for money at this point, I’m inviting them to be part of something that matters, and I’m inviting them to use their resources to try to make the world better and make our communities better,” she said.

About Melissa Daugherty 75 Articles
Melissa Daugherty is an award-winning columnist and editorial writer who started her career as a higher education reporter at a daily newspaper. Daugherty spent 17 years at the CN&R, eight of them as editor-in-chief. Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable is her super power.