People You Need to Know: Nate Beason
"After a few years of observing what I thought was a pretty dysfunctional Board of Supervisors, and with a little coaxing from friends, I decided to run." Nevada County Supervisor Nate Beason
Nate Beason and his wife, Betty, moved to Nevada County in 2000 after he retired as a captain in the U.S. Navy. In his 30-year military career, Beason served on eight different ships and was the commander on three of them. He was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2004 and re-elected in 2008. The current chairman of the board represents District 1, which includes Nevada City, Banner Mountain, Cascade Shores, Deer Creek, Chicago Park, Cedar Ridge and Peardale.
What brought you and your wife to Nevada County and why did you leave the relative comfort of retirement to run for office at a time when elected officials are considered fair game by everyone who owns a computer?
Betty and I were looking for a small town for retirement. I had grown up in one, and she seemed less and less inclined to stay in an urban area. We wanted to be in northern California with close access to outdoor activities. I had no political aspirations whatsoever.
After a few years of observing what I thought was a pretty dysfunctional Board of Supervisors, and with a little coaxing from friends, I decided to run.
I had little knowledge of politics, but figured that I could do at least as well as what I was witnessing. As far as criticism goes, a lot of it comes from misunderstandings or from a political bias.
There is a legitimate amount based on honest differences of opinion or priorities. I think if elected officials are straight forward and direct, admit their mistakes, and listen to their constituents, over time people will learn to trust them.
In your six years on the Board of Supervisors, you’ve seen the economy soar with the housing boom and then plunge. What has this experience taught you and how does the county meet the state’s mandates and the needs of its citizens in this current economic climate?
I think anyone who was paying attention during the run up to the recession knew that the “boom” wasn’t going to last, particularly when the local economy is heavily-sectored in such fickle markets as construction, real estate and tourism.
Consequently, the Board has been very careful in its spending habits and had the foresight to establish a prudent reserve over the past several years. We knew the good times would roll to a stop, but we didn’t know when.
Just as now, we are very careful because we think we are starting to bottom out, but we have a couple more tough revenue years ahead-especially when you factor in the capriciousness and profligacy of the state legislature.
We anticipate that the state could start to renege on its financial commitments to mandates in the fiscal year starting in July. The Board has pledged not to backfill those mandates from the county’s General Fund. Nevada is in much better fiscal shape than most counties, so it’s going to be an interesting FY 10/11 statewide.
Nevada County has a population of approximately 100,000 and the Nevada County government has an annual budget of around $182 million, which works out to about $1,800 per resident. How do you deal with the cost of government in California? Is it regulations, salaries, pension plans or something else?
It’s no single bullet or several bullets – it is all of the above. California likes to embellish on federal programs making them more costly and, yes, regulations are a part of that equation.
The problem goes back as far as Prop. 13. When revenues were cut, programs were not (counties used to receive 50 cents on every property tax dollar collected; now we receive about 15 cents on the dollar). The state used an existing surplus to maintain expenditures. It’s been boom and bust ever since.
In the late 20th Century, the state took dotcom revenues and increased programs, salaries, pensions and then the revenues disappeared, but the programs stayed with increased regulation. Now the state has even less revenue, but no appetite for cutting programs or regulations. During these recent times they have pushed programs/ regulations down to the locals and taken away local revenues.
About two-thirds of the county’s budget is composed of federal and state programs. They all come with strings and categorically-driven limitations on application of the associated funds.
The other one-third is the county General Fund in which we have “discretion.” In reality, once we pay for the bread-and-butter programs such as public safety, public health, and required maintenance of effort in various programs, there is very little discretionary money left.
If you could wave a magic wand or were king of California for a day, what would you change about how this state is governed?
I would do away with term limits. Our state is run by lobbyists and legislative staff members who move from one staff to another as legislators change.
Second, I would try to redistrict as fairly and honestly as possible, and I wouldn’t allow any state or federal legislator to come near the process.
Third, I support open primaries in which all run in one primary and the top two, regardless of party, face off in the general. This would force candidates to debate the issues rather than pushing the “I’m more conservative/liberal” than my opponent button. We need to take power away from the party caucuses and give it back to the voters. As things are now, the game is rigged through “safe” districting for the parties.
Even though the state’s economic problems seem to make everyone’s job more challenging, Nevada County is still a pretty special place to live. What do you enjoy the most about your job and living here?
I enjoy the day-to-day interaction with my constituents at events, in my office, or out and around the county. Local government is the only level where you can phone or e-mail your local representative and get an answer in a day or two or a meeting in a few. We get very rapid feedback, and that’s the most important dialogue we have. It promotes better governance.
As far as general living, Nevada County suits my wife and me. Along with its charming rural quality, there is a wide spectrum of entertainment activities, great restaurants abound, and we enjoy listening to and interacting with folks with a variety of points of view.
It’s a good thing, too. In my district, we have about every point of view imaginable and that creates a special vibrancy, at least for Betty and me.